Where is the government's bank-bailout money going? In part to pay for Wall Street banker Peter Kraus's $37 million Park Avenue spread.
Kraus had excellent timing. He signed on as a top executive at Merrill Lynch in May, negotiating a $50 million pay package, with much of that guaranteed if the company was sold. He didn't officially start until September. A couple of days later, Merrill CEO John Thain sold the company to Bank of America for $50 billion, triggering a $25 million payout under Kraus's contract.
Bank of America got a $25 billion capital injection from the government. Kraus resigned and collected his cash, taking a job as CEO of AllianceBernstein, a money-management firm. And then he bought, for an estimated $37 million, an apartment at 720 Park Avenue from Democratic fundraisers Carl Spielvogel and Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.
Let's be clear: Kraus got this apartment fair and square: He suckered Merrill Lynch into a pay guarantee, and had the gall to hold Merrill and Bank of America to his contract, even though he only worked a couple of days.
Bankers deserve bonuses — but only when they really earn them. Thain, who arguably saved Merrill Lynch from the disastrous fate of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, declined to seek a bonus this year, but he would have been justified in getting one. Kraus got a bonus, but he didn't earn it. He did nothing illegal. He just did something unseemly.
The 5-bedroom spread technically belongs to Kraus's wife, who was listed as the purchaser. But given the circumstanced of its sale, I like to think it belongs to all of us. Behold the splendor of the People's Palace.