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The Man Who Beat the Bank

Whistle-blower: A former BankAmerica employee will collect $25 million in settlement of allegations that the bank cheated muni bond issuers.

November 15, 1998|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — California's newest multimillionaire didn't get rich by winning the lottery. He blew the whistle on the Bank of America.

Patrick Stull, along with his attorneys, will receive $25 million of BankAmerica's $187.5-million settlement of a lawsuit alleging that the bank cheated municipal bond issuers.

BankAmerica is the biggest bank in the nation since its $40-billion merger with NationsBank Corp. in September.

Stull said it was only the combined might of all the plaintiffs, including the state of California, the city and county of San Francisco and nearly 300 other local governments, that brought BankAmerica to its knees.

"A small guy like me could not go after B of A unless he had the state of California and the city attorney behind him," Stull told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If it were just me and my lawyers, we'd have been crushed."

BankAmerica now admits, as Stull maintained, that it improperly shifted unclaimed bond payments to its own accounts instead of returning them to issuers, which would have used the funds to pay for roads, schools and other public facilities.

The bank said its errors were due to a mishandling of funds and not a deliberate policy of cheating customers.

"I'm pleased that I've been vindicated," said Stull, a former manager in BankAmerica's municipal bond unit who turned against the bank after he quit in 1990.

The case has all but consumed Stull, who has actively participated in strategy with his lawyers.

"Every day I've been working on it one way or another," he said. "It's been my life for four years."

When Stull left the bank to spend more time with his sick child, he set up a business auditing bond accounts for municipal governments. His audits showed that BankAmerica had improperly overcharged or kept refunds from many of his clients.

When some bank employees threatened him with legal action, the consultant-turned-crusader used whistle-blower laws to sue his former employer.

Stull is already financially comfortable, but he does not deny that money was a factor in going after the bank.

"To say I never thought about financial rewards is absurd," he said.

But he insisted he never would have pursued the case if principles were not at stake.

"The stress something like this puts on your family, your kids--the damage it does to your reputation. . . . People would come up and shake their fingers at us in the street, chastising us for taking on the Bank of America," he said. "But when you believe you're doing the right thing, you just plow right through it."

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