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Jefferies CEO gets $19M payday for 2012

Christina Rexrode, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- This year, the best-paid CEO on Wall Street could be the one who agreed to sell his company.

The investment bank Jefferies Group Inc. said Tuesday that its CEO, Richard Handler, will get a 2012 pay package of $19 million, as measured by the bank's calculations. In a fiercely competitive industry, that will put him ahead of rivals like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and Morgan Stanley's James Gorman.

In a regulatory filing, Jefferies said Handler would receive $1 million in salary and a cash bonus of $5 million. The board said it was willing to pay him a bonus of more than $8 million, but that he volunteered for lower pay.

The bulk of Handler's pay comes from $13 million worth of restricted stock. The bank gave him the restricted stock in 2010, but he had to meet certain performance goals for the bank and also wait three years before redeeming it.

Dimon and Gorman, meanwhile, are getting pay cuts for 2012. The JPMorgan board announced this month that it would slash Dimon's pay in half, to $11.5 million, after a surprise $6 billion trading loss at the bank last year. And Gorman's pay will be trimmed compared to last year because, according to a person familiar with the situation, the board was unhappy with the bank's stock price and return on equity, a measure of profitability. Gorman's total pay for 2012 hasn't been revealed but it will be less than 2011, when he made $13 million, according Securities and Exchange Commission methodology.

Other big banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, haven't revealed how much they plan to pay their CEOs for 2012.

In November, New York-based Jefferies agreed to sell itself to Leucadia National Corp., with Handler staying on as CEO of the combined company. Jefferies' shares jumped 14 percent on the day the deal was announced. They're now up nearly 39 percent compared to before the deal was announced.

Banker pay has been a flashpoint in the financial crisis and its aftermath, with some regulators and consumer groups complaining that Wall Street's big compensation packages led to risk-taking that helped fuel the global meltdown. Shareholder activists complain that big pay packages for corporate CEOs make them disconnected from employees and investors. Companies argue that they have to pay competitively for the best talent.