Workers foil scheme, get meager reward, while executives reap bountiful bonuses

April 11, 1999|By Michael Olesker

WHEN A 24-year old Westview branch bank teller named Lauren Neason rescued $16.8 million in phony money from slipping through NationsBank's corporate fingers, her grateful employers naturally decided to reward her in the most appropriate way they could imagine.

They gave her nothing.

Maybe you noticed this the other day, in Sun reporter Michael James' account of how Neason, with assistance from a security officer named Richard Parker, spotted laundered money being moved by two guys with dreams of slipping the funds past sleepy bank officials, changing their identities, then going off to Switzerland for the duration.

Neason uncovered the scheme. She did this two years ago, though it wasn't until the other day that one of the plotters, Scott Posnanski, 31, the prep school-educated son of a Wisconsin bank president, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to 41 months in prison.

NationsBank observed this signal moment in judicial history by counting the $16.8 million all over again and giving none of it to Neason and none to Parker.

In James' newspaper account of the case, it's not until the last few paragraphs that Neason's mother, Doris Neason of Catonsville, says, "I wish the bank had given her a reward for it. She didn't get anything."

Naturally, things being the way they are, there is an explanation for this, which was given the other day by NationsBank spokeswoman Terri Charles, on instructions from corporate executives:

"Generally," she said, "we do not reward our associates in terms of particular financial compensation type of awards."

Not even for saving $16.8 million?

"However," Charles quickly went on, "any associate who certainly goes above and beyond the call of duty or certainly saves the day in the manner our associates did in the Sun story, [Ms. Neason] was recognized internally in the bank's newsletter, and these publications go nationwide, and they certainly recognize associates for all the wonderful things they do for the bank in the normal course of business as well as above and beyond that."

So the bank doesn't believe in cash bonuses to employees?

"We have various internal award programs," said Charles. "[Ms. Neason] was recognized in internal newsletters for her good efforts."

"But the bank doesn't give cash bonuses even for saving millions of dollars?" Charles was asked.

"No," she said. `Not for work the bank considers a normal part of their jobs."

This is quite naturally fascinating to hear, and also not quite accurate. Neason and Parker got no cash bonuses, but all they did was help save $16.8 million and considerable embarrassment for the bank.

Others with the bank, in the "normal" course of doing their jobs, get some pretty good bonuses.

Hugh L. McColl, Jr., for example. He is NationsBank chairman of the board and chief executive officer. Last year, his salary was $1 million, but he also took home $2.5 million in bonuses. It's all there in the bank's records. A year ago, he got $3.5 million in bonuses, and the year before that, $3.1 million.

Then there's Kenneth D. Lewis, NationsBank president. He made $887,500 last year, but, because this was considered a pittance for all the "normal" work he did, he took home $1.5 million in bonuses. The year before, $2.2 million. The year before that, $1.85 million.

Then there's James H. Hance Jr., NationsBank vice chairman and chief financial officer. Though he made $887,500 in salary last year, he took home $1.5 million in bonuses. The year before, $2.2 million. The year before that, $1.75 million.

So there seems to be some discrepancy about this bonus business, which I wanted to discus with McColl, or Lewis, or Hance -- or with any other NationsBank corporate executives who took home bonuses atop their healthy salaries.

All requests for interviews were turned down.

"We don't talk about how we compensate our employees or any of that sort of thing," Terri Charles said. Again, she stressed the recognition given to Neason and Parker in the bank's internal newsletter.

Asked for copies of those newsletters, Charles checked with bank officials and then said, "The newsletters are for our employees only and are considered private."

At week's end, said Charles, "there has been a lot of discussion about this issue. We are exploring other possible ways that the bank might consider appropriate to reward them."

"Money?" she was asked.

`No," Charles answered, "but we are going to try to continue to congratulate them."

Swell.

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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