Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has overbilled the federal government nearly $100,000 for work related to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to a special inspector general’s report released Wednesday.
The so-called SIGTARP’s latest quarterly report to Congress — which also details the TARP–related fees paid to 12 other Am Law 200 firms — comes the same week as the publication of a new book in which the four-year-old program’s first special inspector general, Neil Barofsky, chronicles what he says was a failure by regulators to curtail Wall Street’s excesses.
Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor who is now a New York University Law School professor, stepped down as SIGTARP in March 2011 and was replaced on an interim basis by former SEC lawyer and ex–Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld restructuring counsel Christy Romero. The Obama administration nominated Romero — who also had stints at Jenner & Block and Snell & Wilmer — to take the job on a permanent basis in February, and she was officially sworn in in April.
After Romero officially took over as SIGTARP earlier this year, Legal affiliate The American Lawyer set about adding up the “obligated value” of the legal services contracts signed by various firms for TARP–related work. Copies of the contracts — most of which pertain to agreements to advise on asset-backed security deals, debt transactions, mortgage loan modifications, and other bailout issues — are available through the financial procurement section of the website of Treasury’s Office of Financial Stability (OFS).
As The American Lawyer has previously reported, Romero’s SIGTARP reports have frequently targeted the legal bills racked up by the Treasury in connection with its management of TARP. In April 2011, Romero claimed that the OFS was lax in exercising oversight of legal bills submitted by vendors. An audit report issued by Romero five months later zeroed in on four firms—Bingham McCutchen; Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Locke Lord; and Simpson Thacher — for providing vague descriptions of legal work done that resulted in a combined total of $8.1 million in TARP–related fees.
Without making an explicit reference to the earlier audit, the latest SIGTARP report urges Treasury to “specifically determine the allowability of $7,980,215 in questioned, unsupported legal fees and expenses paid” to Simpson Thacher (nearly $5.8 million), Cadwalader (nearly $2 million), Locke Lord ($146,867), and Bingham ($57,939). (The sum attributed to Bingham was originally paid to McKee Nelson, which Bingham acquired in 2009.)
The SIGTARP report also singles out Simpson Thacher for allegedly overbilling Treasury by nearly $100,000 for its services.
“The Treasury contracting officer should disallow and seek recovery from [Simpson Thacher] for $96,482 in questioned, ineligible fees, and expenses paid that were not allowed under the OFS contract,” according to the latest report. Of that amount, the report claims Simpson Thacher billed $68,936 at rates “in excess of the allowable maximums” set in one contract, as well as $22,546 in “other direct costs” not allowed under another contract.
Simpson was selected in October 2008 to advise the Treasury Department on structuring the equity purchase portion of TARP at an initial rate of $300,000 for six months of work, according to The American Lawyer ‘s previous reports. Simpson Thacher partners listed on the firm’s subsequent TARP contracts include M&A and financial institutions practice head Lee Meyerson, corporate partners Andrew Keller, Barrie Covit, David Eisenberg, Sean Rodgers, Brian Steinhardt and William Dougherty, and of counsel Gary Rice.
The American Lawyer named Meyerson, a veteran banking lawyer, one of its Dealmakers of the Year in 2009 for his financial rescue efforts. Despite questions about whether the firm’s ongoing work on behalf of such top banking clients as JPMorgan Chase represented a potential conflict of interest, Simpson Thacher became one of Treasury’s go-to TARP firms, according to The American Lawyer ‘s previous reports.
Neither Meyerson nor a Simpson Thacher spokeswoman immediately responded to a request for comment on the latest SIGTARP report.
Though TARP officially expired in October 2010, Treasury continued to employ 13 firms to help run related programs that live on, according to previous reports. Below are the “expended values” of Treasury’s TARP contracts with several Am Law 200 firms:
• Cadwalader — $21,871,084 — auto industry restructuring and bankruptcy counsel to Treasury.
• Simpson Thacher — $5,987,567 — legal services work under Treasury’s Public Private Investments Funds program and Capital Assistance Program.
• SNR Denton — $4,639,403 — predecessor firms Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and Thacher Proffitt & Wood provided legal services related to auto industry loans and investments.
• Hughes Hubbard & Reed — $4,486,943 — legal services for the Capital Purchase Program and document production services and litigation support.
• Squire Sanders — $3,606,223 — legal services for the Capital Purchase Program and housing legal services.
• Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison — $2,911,462 — omnibus procurement for legal services.
• Venable — $1,395,684 — Capital Assistance Program legal services and omnibus procurement for legal services.
• Haynes and Boone — $345,746 — auto investment legal services and omnibus procurement for legal services.
• Bingham — $281,701 — SBA initiative legal services and SBA 7(a) Security Purchase Program.
• Locke Lord — $272,243 — interim legal services in support of Treasury investments under EESA.
• Alston & Bird — $213,527 — omnibus procurement for legal services.
• Schiff Hardin — $97,526 — housing legal services.