Former Baltimore currency trader John M. Rusnak agreed yesterday to serve 71/2 years in prison for covering up $691 million in trading losses at Allfirst Bank, while U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio vowed to "continue this investigation" in pursuit of those he described as Rusnak's "accomplices."
Rusnak, who remains free, will be sentenced Jan. 17 and probably will have to report to a federal penitentiary within 30 days after that. He pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, admitting to U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson in Baltimore that he hid the trading losses over the past five years through a series of deceptive transactions, making it appear that his deals were profitable for Allfirst so that he could continue to collect lucrative paychecks and bonuses.
Rusnak showed no signs of emotion during the 55-minute court proceeding. He spoke little, answering "Yes, your honor" or giving other clipped responses when asked a series of routine questions by Nickerson affirming that he understood the scope of the plea agreement.
The charge to which Rusnak pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 30 years' imprisonment and a $1 million fine, but the government agreed to recommend the 71/2-year term based on the size of the losses, Rusnak's cooperation and the fact that he is a first-time offender. Judges often accept a recommended sentence that has been worked out as part of a plea bargain, but, like other judges, Nickerson is not obligated to do so. Under federal sentencing rules, Rusnak will not be eligible for parole, but could receive 131/2 months' credit for good behavior.
After his courtroom appearance, Rusnak listened as reporters peppered defense attorney David B. Irwin with questions about the case, but the lawyer firmly said of his client, "He'll not be answering any questions."
From the first days after his losses were discovered in a routine audit at Allfirst, Rusnak has cooperated with investigators in poring over the vast number of transactions in which he participated. Currency traders buy and sell currencies -- mostly Japanese yen in Rusnak's case -- to profit from often minute changes in their value relative to the dollar. The plea bargain negotiated by Irwin requires Rusnak to continue to talk to prosecutors, possibly naming others who helped him conceal his trades and losses from Allfirst management.
DiBiagio said "no decisions have been made on other indictments," adding: "He had accomplices. He undertook a sustained and concentrated effort to defeat the bank's accountability system." DiBiagio declined to say whom investigators are still looking at in the case.
But one lawyer familiar with the investigation, who declined to be identified, said prosecutors are probing the actions of Rusnak's trading partners at other financial institutions. "Some of the deals might have been questioned in their normalcy, and so it raises the specter of whether there was some kind of agreement beyond the deals," the lawyer said. "There were a myriad of different institutions involved."
In his recitation of the case to Nickerson, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning said Rusnak made the biggest number of his deals with Bank of America, Citibank and Merrill Lynch, but the prosecutor also listed key transactions with Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York.
As part of the deal, if Nickerson accepts it, the government would drop six other charges alleging that Rusnak made false entries into records at Allfirst, the U.S. subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks. Allied agreed last month to sell Allfirst to New York's M&T Bank Corp. for $3.1 billion in cash and stock.
Schenning told the judge that Rusnak, who will be 38 next week, collected $433,709 in bonuses in the late 1990s as a result of his bogus and hidden transactions and was due to collect $220,456 more in bonus money based on his outwardly profitable 2001 deals before the scam was uncovered in February.
In addition, his plea bargain calls for five years of supervised probation after his prison term and bars him from working for a bank in the future.
Prosecutors also called for Rusnak, when he resumes working after serving his sentence, to make some form of restitution over a five-year period. But, considering the staggering losses for Allfirst, nowhere near the full amount could ever be paid back, and a decision on the level of restitution was left up to the judge. Irwin said any restitution would be a percentage of whatever Rusnak earns, to allow him to pay for normal living expenses.