A lawsuit filed Thursday in Tennessee alleges Morgan Stanley illegally fired a broker for whistleblowing about insider trading at the wirehouse and about employee complicity in a client’s corporate fraud. Details of the suit read like something out of an Oliver Stone film.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the wirehouse has called the lawsuit baseless and plans to contest it. The broker, John Verble, claims he wore a wire to aid the FBI and that his branch manager physically threatened him in the office after suspecting the wire. The lawsuit centers on a federal probe into employees of a truck-stop company run by Jimmy Haslam, majority owner of the Cleveland Browns football team, who also happens to be the brother of Tennessee governor Bill Haslam.
Verble seeks damages of nearly $720,000, or twice his annual compensation, as well as roughly $260,000 the wirehouse is “holding hostage” from his initial signing bonus — which came in the form of a forgivable loan, his lawsuit alleges. He also wants the option to rejoin Morgan Stanley. According to his Finra public disclosure report, he joined Raymond James soon after his termination.
Verble’s lawsuit says he holds a doctorate in psychology and went to work for Morgan Stanley’s Knoxville office in late 2006. He allegedly learned of various criminal activities involving employees of Pilot Flying J, a Knoxville-based truck-stop company whose website bills it as “the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America.”
Ten former Pilot Flying J sales employees pleaded guilty in 2013 to fraud involving a fuel-rebate scam at the company, and last year Pilot Flying J paid $92 million in fines. On two occasions, in 2012 and 2013, a Morgan Stanley colleague spotted Verble entering a vehicle with federal agents, the lawsuit claims. In May 2013, wirehouse executives allegedly questioned Verble in a conference room about his work with the FBI. During that meeting, which a Morgan Stanley lawyer attended, the branch manager declared, “I am going to take you outside and whip your ass,” according to the lawsuit. Verble then left the building, the suit claims. Soon after, Morgan Stanley suspended the broker and eventually fired him.
Neither the lawsuit nor coverage in the Journal and Associated Press reveal exactly what role Morgan Stanley employees are thought to have played in the Pilot Flying J fraud. However, Verble alleges he also discovered wirehouse employees committing insider trading and violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act on accounting reform. The insider trading involved stock in Miller Energy, according to the lawsuit.