The man who created and then lost the vast Cherry Hill-based Commerce Bank network wrapped up his time on the witness stand in federal court in Camden Monday insisting that millions in compensation is being improperly withheld from him.
"I want the jury," Vernon Hill testified, "to enforce the terms of my employment agreement."
In January 2008, six months after Hill was ousted as chairman, president, and chief executive at Commerce, he filed a lawsuit asking the bank, which by then had been acquired by TD Bank, to make good on his contract.
At stake now, with interest, is $17.2 million in salary, bonuses, and stock options.
TD Bank's defense is that it has been prevented from paying the money because, to do so, it would have to certify to federal regulators that it had no evidence - proven or unproven - that Hill had committed fraud or done anything that would hurt the bank, including possibly improper dealings with businesses owned by himself and his wife.
According to previous testimony by a bank official, the bank offered a litany of reasons why it has been unable to make that certification: class-action suits targeting Hill and the former Commerce Bank; a report that mentioned Hill in a federal pay-to-play City Hall corruption investigation in Philadelphia, and a consent decree from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, signed by Hill on Nov. 17, 2008, in which he "neither admits nor denies" engaging in "unsound practices."
Hill's position is that the bank is using federal regulators as an excuse to avoid paying on the contract. The lawsuits were dismissed, the federal corruption investigation never led to action against him, and he had never done anything but improve the bank, Hill said.
The proof, he said, came in October 2007, when TD Bank said it would acquire Commerce - then expanded to more about 425 branches - for $8.5 billion, a price greater than its market value.
"I had nothing to do with the sale," Hill said, "but I had everything to do with building the bank they bought."
In his cross-examination, bank attorney William Tambussi, of Brown & Connery L.L.P. in Westmont, asked Hill whether he recalled a proposed agreement for the bank to put the money it owed him in escrow while Hill applied to the regulators for permission to be paid.
"It absolutely says nothing like that," Hill said. It's up to the bank, he said, to seek permission from regulators to fulfill the contract.
Hill is represented by Edwin J. Jacobs Jr. of Jacobs & Barbone, P.A. in Atlantic City. U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler is presiding over the case.