B of A shows Countrywide president the door

Showing Countrywide Financial Corp. President David Sambol the door, Bank of America Corp. said Wednesday that it would appoint one of its own top executives to oversee mortgage operations after completing its acquisition of Countrywide.

When it announced in January that it would buy Countrywide, Bank of America said that Sambol, the No. 2 executive to Countrywide founder and Chairman Angelo Mozilo, would stay on to run the nation's largest home-loan operation from Calabasas, Calif., where Countrywide is based.

But that role will be handed to Barbara J. Desoer, Bank of America's chief technology and operations officer and a member of the bank's management operating committee.

Bank of America's chairman and chief executive, Ken Lewis, on Wednesday reiterated his promises that Countrywide's free-wheeling approach to home lending, which racked up billions of dollars in losses on risky mortgages, would be replaced by more conservative policies.

"Current economic and business conditions have highlighted the need for strong and focused executive leadership with a deep understanding of the Bank of America culture and operating model," Lewis said in a statement.

Countrywide's financial condition has deteriorated since January, with the company posting an $893 million first-quarter loss this year following a loss of $1.6 billion in the second half of last year.

Critics have complained that the company's aggressive lending practices contributed to the worst downturn in the housing and mortgage markets since the Great Depression, and they have singled out large pay packages awarded to Mozilo, Sambol and others as inappropriate given the company's near-collapse.

Among the critics was Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, who had asked Bank of America to reconsider the decision to put Sambol in charge of home lending.

Desoer, 55, has California roots, having been a retail banking executive for San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp. before it was acquired by NationsBank Corp. in 1998 in the transaction that created the current Bank of America, which is based in Charlotte, N.C. She will move from North Carolina to run the operation from Calabasas, the company said.

Lewis called her "an ideal person to lead our mortgage business forward" because of her experience running Bank of America's consumer products division, including mortgages. "She understands the challenges and has a demonstrated track record of getting results," he said.

Sambol, 48, was among several Countrywide executives awarded hefty bonuses to stay on after the Bank of America acquisition, which is set to close early in the third quarter.

In a regulatory filing in March, Countrywide said Sambol would receive a $20 million retention bonus, payable in equal installments on the first and second anniversaries of the merger.

He also would be eligible for $8 million in restricted stock over three years.

Bank of America spokesman Robert Stickler said Sambol will receive those benefits as part of his departure package.

Sambol's retention package also extended his fringe benefits at Countrywide, including "use of a company-provided car or car allowance, country club dues and financial consulting services" through the end of 2009.

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