Insight: The banker and the cabbie: When two worlds collide

Mon Mar 19, 2012 10:09am EDT
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By Michelle Conlin and Chris Francescani

(Reuters) - At the very moment William Bryan Jennings should have been climbing into bed at his sumptuous Connecticut mansion, the high-ranking executive at Morgan Stanley was sprinting through back roads a mile away. He was exhausted, scared and - detectives would later allege - had just stabbed a taxi driver in a dispute over a fare.

The day, December 21, 2011, had started out normally as he left the kind of home - sweeping curved staircase, perfectly plumped chintz pillows, backyard swimming pool and a Ferrari in the garage - that makes many New Yorkers deeply jealous, and headed to the steel-and-glass tower in midtown Manhattan where he directed the firm's bond business.

In the afternoon, he hosted a charity auction in the city to benefit sick children. That night, he attended a Morgan Stanley holiday party at the swanky rooftop bar at Ink48 Hotel. When he left the party, he looked for the black town car that was supposed to take him to his $2.7 million mansion in the wealthy enclave of Darien. He couldn't find the car, so he hailed a yellow cab.

In less than two hours, what allegedly began as a tussle over a cab fare, which the taxi driver said was $204, led to a struggle that could cost Jennings his career.

On March 9, Jennings walked quietly into a Stamford courtroom and pleaded not guilty to charges of assault, larceny for not paying the fare and intimidation with racial slurs against Mohamed Helmy Ammar, an American citizen who was born in Egypt. The proceedings took just a few seconds. Jennings, dressed in a navy blazer, white shirt and royal blue patterned tie, left swiftly afterwards with his lawyer, Eugene Riccio, followed by a noisy throng of reporters and photographers.

If convicted of all three charges, Jennings, Morgan Stanley's head of fixed income for North America, could face up to 11 years in prison. First-time offenders rarely face such stiff sentences but the charges are serious, and both Jennings' job and reputation are at stake.

Morgan Stanley has already placed him on leave. The firm's spokesman declined to comment, other than to say no decision has been made regarding Jennings' longer-term status at the firm. One top-ranking Morgan Stanley executive, though, said he "does not stand a chance of getting his job back."

Jennings may also face a civil suit for damages from the taxi driver. Ammar's attorney, Hassan Ahmad, says no settlement discussions are taking place, but his client is talking about such a suit.   Continued...

Morgan Stanley investment banker William Bryan Jennings leaves Superior Court in Stamford, Connecticut March 9, 2012. Jennings, co-head of North American fixed-income capital markets at the Wall Street bank, was arrested near his home in Darien, Connecticut, on February 29 and charged with second-degree assault, sixth-degree larceny for not paying the fare and intimidation by bias or bigotry, Detective Mark Cappelli told Reuters. REUTERS/Adam Hunger