Is David Sambol, the departing president of Countrywide Financial Corp., taking one last joy ride on the company jet?
A source close to the company says Sambol is leaving today on a three-week family vacation to Africa on Countrywide's elegant Gulfstream IV.
In a telephone interview Friday, Sambol would not confirm the trip, but he didn't dispute it either.
"This is a personal matter involving my family and I would like to protect my privacy," Sambol said, adding that "everything I am doing is in connection with my agreements with the company."
Calabasas-based Countrywide nearly collapsed under the weight of defaulting mortgage loans last year, and its acquisition by Bank of America Corp. was completed last month.
Under his exit deal with BofA, the 48-year-old Sambol will be paid a severance package valued at $28 million in cash and stock, plus a host of fringe benefits, including access to the company jet for both business and personal travel as long as he is employed.
Sambol said he was leaving the company shortly. Bank of America declined to comment. In a regulatory filing, the bank said Sambol's personal use of the company jet "would be limited," but it didn't say to what degree.
Sambol's reported use of the jet for a family vacation to Africa was described to The Times by a person with knowledge of Countrywide's flight operations, who was not authorized to speak and requested anonymity.
BofA will also pay Sambol's country club dues and foot the bills for financial consulting services he uses through the end of 2009, according to a regulatory filing.
Sambol earned $10.3 million in 2007 -- his last full year as president and chief operating officer of Countrywide -- including $113,629 in perquisites and personal benefits. About $62,000 of that was for personal use of the company plane.
Paul Hodgson, research associate at the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm, criticized Bank of America for agreeing to the terms of Sambol's exit deal.
"What we need to have," Hodgson said, "is someone on the other side of the table willing to say, 'No.' "