Eliot Spitzer, the New York Attorney General, said in a speech today that he could have pursued criminal charges against Merrill Lynch for its conflicts of interest in its research, but that he didn’t want to "destroy" the firm or Wall Street.
Instead, Spitzer pursued Merrill in civil court. According to an attorney, a criminal conviction against Merrill would have affected its status as a broker-dealer, and would have had serious and adverse consequences on its business. Spitzer said putting Merrill out of business would have been "insane," according to people who heard Spitzer speak.
Spitzer told an audience of journalism students, business students and faculty at Baruch College in New York today that his goal was to "reform Wall Street," to "change the rules"–and not to put the big brokerage firms out of business.
He said it was imperative for him to be careful when it came to the investigation of Merrill Lynch and not destroy the country’s "capital-raising process.''
Merrill agreed to a $100 million fine, yet Merrill still claims that the settlement does not represent neither "evidence nor admission of
wrongdoing or liability." Last month, Merrill President Stan O’Neal told brokers from the firm that Spitzer’s investigation was a "politicized" event.
Spitzer's statements today illustrate that he will likely negotiate
settlements with firms he is currently investigating, which include Morgan Stanley and Salomon Smith Barney’s parent Citigroup.