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$14B Merrill team settles solicitation lawsuit with JPMorgan

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JPMorgan and a $14 billion team that moved to Merrill Lynch reached a settlement, ending a quarrel over whether the advisors had violated non-solicitation agreements, according to court documents.

In the contentious dispute JPMorgan argued that the former employees of its private bank had been "bad-mouthing" the company to clients, according to its lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Chicago.

Advisors Kirk Cunningham and Todd Helfrich had left JPMorgan in April, joining Merrill Lynch's Private Banking & Investment Group after a short garden leave, according to the lawsuit. They had already transferred about $160 million in client assets when some former clients allegedly complained to JPMorgan about being solicited to move their accounts to the team's new employer, Merrill Lynch.

JPMorgan contended that the advisors had violated non-solicitation agreements they signed while employees and that they had also taken confidential client contact information. The two men had worked for the company's private bank in Chicago.

Cunningham and Helfrich have now agreed to cease soliciting clients they serviced at JPMorgan or clients they know through their employment at JPMorgan, according to the settlement agreement, which was filed Friday in federal court.

However, the settlement does not prohibit the advisors from responding to and servicing clients who contact them.

As part of the settlement, Cunningham and Helfrich did not agree to or admit "any liability or acknowledge any wrongdoing," according to the court documents.

It also does not make "any findings as to whether Defendants violated their agreements with JPMorgan."

The agreement also stipulates that the advisors would sign a certification attesting they have no records or documents belonging to JPMorgan. A Merrill spokesman confirmed they had not taken any such materials.

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Reached for comment, Cunningham referred comment to Merrill Lynch. An attorney representing the advisors, Martin McManaman of Chicago law firm Lowis and Gellen, did not return a call seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for JPMorgan declined to comment.

The agreement does not have any bearing on a pending FINRA arbitration case between the bank and the advisors.

JPMorgan has filed other lawsuits over the past year alleging former brokers had violated non-solicitation agreements. It even accused former JPMorgan advisor Ryan May of "bad-mouthing" the bank to clients. He had left to join Ameriprise and allegedly violating a non-solicitation agreement, according to JPMorgan.

This is also not the first dispute between JPMorgan and an advisor who moved to Merrill Lynch. Earlier this year, the bank sued Gabriel Campbell for allegedly violating a non-solicitation agreement. He oversaw about $100 million, according to his former employer.

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