Top Miami Broker Forced Out by Merrill Acted ‘Above Board,’ Lawyer Says
Patrick Dwyer, the top Merrill Lynch private wealth advisor who resigned on Tuesday, acted ‘above board’ when he made a donation to a Florida campaign official that the firm was probing when he resigned, his lawyer said Friday.Dwyer donated $25,000 to the election campaign of the state’s attorney general last year in an alleged attempt to win support for his battle with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to expunge customer complaints from his regulatory record. Dwyer funneled the money through a registered lobbyist after consulting with an election-law lawyer, but Merrill said he violated firm policy by failing to disclose the donation, according to Jeffrey Sonn, his Aventura, Fla.-based lawyer.
“I’m shocked,” Sonn said. “Pat always acted completely ethically and above board. We do not agree in any way, shape or form with Merrill’s position.”
A Merrill spokesman declined to comment. The firm has not yet filed the U-5 termination notice with regulators that will spell out the conditions of Dwyer’s departure.
Sonn denied some observers’ speculation that Dwyer’s contribution could put him and Merrill in jeopardy of violating the Securities and Exchange Commission “pay to play rule,” which restricts political contributions from advisers who work with government clients. Retail advisers who work with local municipalities can get entangled by the rule, but Dwyer did not advise on any bond work for public entities, Sonn said.
He declined to comment on whether Dwyer is considering litigation alleging wrongful dismissal or other claims against Merrill or Bank of America, its parent company.
Dwyer led 11 associates, including two other advisors, on a team that produced around $10 million annually on about $3.7 billion in client assets, according to his website, rankings from Barron’s and people who claimed familiarity with his practice.
His campaign contribution to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was the subject of a “Miami Herald” article last month. It quoted allegations from two former heads of Florida’s securities commission who alleged that Patronis tried pressuring them to drop their investigations of multiple attempts by Dwyer to clean his record of customer complaints. All but one of the seven complaints were dismissed or denied, but Finra and the Florida regulators alleged that Dwyer violated discovery and other rules in his expungement battles.
He won his arbitration case to expunge his records in 2017, but Finra, with support from Florida, sought to vacate the award. Dwyer and Finra reached a stipulated settlement last November, according to court records, and the advisor’s BrokerCheck record continues to show the customer complaints.