Matthew Lee, a former Lehman senior vice president, was fired days after questioning the accounting tricks in a letter to his superiors, attorney Erwin Shustak said. Shustak gave a copy of the letter to The Associated Press.
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. imploded in September 2008, becoming the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history. The collapse sent financial markets across the globe into a free-fall and prompted a massive bailout of the U.S. banking system.
An examiner appointed by the bankruptcy court said in a 2,200-page report last week that Lehman hid its debt and perilous financial condition by using an accounting gimmick called Repo 105. The report revealed Lee's warnings to the bank, though his letter makes public the first internal assessment of the legality of Lehman's bookkeeping.
In a letter dated May 18, 2008, Lee wrote that he discovered that the bank had been underreporting its debt by about $5 billion at the end of each month. Lee, a 14-year Lehman veteran, wrote that he felt compelled to report the "discrepancies" under the firm's code of ethics, saying he believed they "possibly constitute unethical or unlawful conduct."
"I believe the manner in which the firm is reporting these assets is potentially misleading to the public and various governmental agencies," Lee wrote. "If so, I believe the firm may be in violation of the code."
Days after sending the letter, the firm told Lee he was being terminated as part of a general layoff, Shustak said. After his firing, Shustak wrote a letter to the bank saying that Lee "believes he has been the victim of retaliation for bringing what he believed, in good faith, to have been ethical and securities law violations by Lehman."
Lee, 56, later reached a severance agreement with Lehman, however, he stopped receiving payments after the firm's collapse, Shustak said. He has filed a claim with the bankruptcy court to recover the unpaid amount.
The bankruptcy examiner's report and Lee's letter could provide a framework for any future legal action against Lehman executives.