Maybe it was all a publicity stunt by a guy with more than enough riches to last a lifetime, but it was refreshing to see

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

Chairman and Chief Executive Sanford Weill refuse to accept any cash bonus last year.

Weill's decision seemed like the right thing to do, given the 24% slide in Citigroup shares in 2002 and all those ugly headlines about the bank's tainted stock research and its unsavory business dealings with

Enron

and

WorldCom

.

Some had hoped Weill's move would signal a new trend on Wall Street, because few financial firms had investors cheering last year. But now that all the big Wall Street firms have reported their executive compensation for 2002, it appears greed is alive -- even after a three-year bear market and massive layoffs that have cut employment in the securities industry by more than 10%.

"Some people think they should have taken out a whip and whipped themselves," said Alan Johnson, an executive compensation consultant. "But by historical standards, in a brutal downturn, Wall Street is doing quite well. If you look at historical payouts, it's about where you would have expected."

The point that cash bonuses for Wall Street's upper echelon are still alive and well was driven home late last week when

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

disclosed it had given a $7 million cash bonus to each of its two top executives: David Komansky, the firm's chairman, and E. Stanley O'Neal, Merrill's president and chief executive.

Both of Merrill's top honchos took home $6 million more in bonuses than they did in 2001, even though the firm's stock fell 26% last year and it was marred by as many ethical scandals as Citigroup. On Monday, for instance, Merrill officially agreed to pay an $80 million fine to the

Securities and Exchange Commission

to settle an investigation into several financial transactions Merrill had arranged for Enron.

At the same time, four former Merrill executives were charged by the SEC with aiding and abetting Enron in committing accounting fraud. Two of those charged include former Merrill investment bankers Schuyler Tilney and Robert Furst. (Tilney's wife Elizabeth is credited with coming up with the idea of Enron's infamous logo -- the so-called crooked E.) All the former Merrill executives are contesting the SEC charges.

The Merrill top brass, however, weren't alone in scoring bigger cash bonuses.

Bear Stearns

(BSC)

Chief Executive James Cayne was rewarded with a $10 million cash bonus, twice as much as he took home in 2001.

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

upped its cash bonus in 2002 for Kenneth Chenault, the credit card company's chief executive, to $2.8 million from $2.2 million.

But at least the stocks of Cayne and Chenault's firms didn't tank last year like Merrill's. In 2002, shares of Bear Stearns rose 2%, while American Express ended the year unchanged.

Now some Wall Street executives did see their bonuses get chopped last year.

Lehman Brothers

(LEH)

Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Fuld's cash bonus, for instance, was trimmed to $1 million from $4 million.

But overall, when it came to bonus time, Wall Street's top brass tended to fare better than their own employees and certainly their stockholders. On average, according to New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, employee bonuses were 37% smaller last year on Wall Street.

Wall Street defenders will point out that in most instances the total pay packages for Wall Street executives actually were smaller this year than in 2001. But that's mainly due to the fact that Wall Street firms awarded less generous grants of stock options and restricted stock to their executives. And anyone will tell you that when it comes to year-end bonuses, cash is king.

"There is nothing like cash," said Timothy Ghriskey, president of Ghriskey Capital, a hedge fund. "There are a lot of people with options ... that have now expired and are worthless."