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AIG gives names of bonus recipients to New York's attorney general

Andrew Cuomo had subpoenaed the information, insisting the public had a right to know their identities. But concerns have been raised about the bonus recipients' safety.

March 20, 2009|Walter Hamilton

NEW YORK — American International Group Inc. on Thursday surrendered the names of employees who received controversial retention bonuses, but don't look for the list to go public any time soon.

New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo had subpoenaed the information, insisting that the public had a right to know the identities of the bonus recipients.

But he struck a different tone Thursday amid concerns that the bonus recipients could become physical targets for public outrage.

"The attorney general's office will responsibly balance the public's right to know how their tax dollars are spent with individual security, privacy rights and corporate prerogative," Cuomo said in a news release. "At this moment, with emotions running high, it is important that we proceed diligently, with care, reflection and sober judgment."

In his testimony to Congress on Wednesday, AIG Chief Executive Edward M. Liddy said employees had received threats, including one e-mail that said recipients "should be executed with piano wire around their necks."

An AIG company memo, posted on the gawker.com website, urged employees "to remain vigilant during this time and understand that if at any given moment a threat is perceived, 911 should be dialed immediately."

The company also provided "safety and security guidelines," including advising against wearing apparel emblazoned with the company's insignia, making sure AIG corporate badges "are not readily visible when exiting the office" and to be "aware of individuals who appear to be out of place or spending an inordinate amount of time near an AIG facility."

In this type of atmosphere, Cuomo must be "careful not to appear to be adopting a lynch mob mentality and piling on an issue that has clearly engendered tremendous anger from the public," noted Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now at McCarter & English in Newark, N.J.

Along with AIG, Cuomo has waged a similar legal battle against Bank of America Corp. -- subpoenaing the names of Merrill Lynch & Co. employees who received $3.6 billion in bonuses shortly before the company was sold to Bank of America.

As did AIG, Bank of America offered to turn over the names provided Cuomo didn't release them. Cuomo refused, and a judge ruled Wednesday that Cuomo had the legal right to disclose the Bank of America list to the public.

Bank of America didn't raise the security issue. Rather, it said the bonuses were an employee confidentiality issue and that disclosure could help competitors snatch its best employees.

That list was expected to be turned in to Cuomo's office late Thursday.

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walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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