BofA Fined Over U.S. Claims Bank Had Drug Traffickers as Clients

Jul 24, 2014 1:00 pm ET

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Bank of America Corp., the second- biggest U.S. lender, agreed to pay $16.6 million to resolve claims it processed transactions for drug traffickers.

From September 2005 to March 2009, the bank handled 208 transactions totaling about $91,192 for six individuals identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as narcotics traffickers, the department said today in a statement. It also failed to block five accounts owned by another four traffickers, violating laws including the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations, according to the statement.

Bank of America demonstrated “reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions” by taking more than two years to fix a known lapse in a screening tool that would have identified people on a list of sanctioned names, the Treasury said. People with multipart names weren’t caught by the bank’s system.

Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, whose tenure started in 2010, has been cleaning up the bank’s legal woes, most of which are related to the takeovers of Countrywide Financial Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. The firm agreed last month to pay an $8 million fine and returned almost $90 million to clients, including charities and ministers, who were improperly charged fees by Merrill Lynch advisers.

The lender paid less than the $83.7 million in penalties it faced because it fixed the issue that caused the lapse, identified additional accounts it operated for sanctioned individuals and cooperated with authorities. The bank didn’t admit or deny the claims, according to a settlement agreement.

The settlement “concludes a matter we addressed in 2009 by enhancing our sanctions-related systems and controls,” Lawrence Grayson, a spokesman for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank, said in a phone interview.