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Study: CEOs cashed in before Wall Street meltdown

The CEOs of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, the two investment banks that collapsed during last year's financial meltdown, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation even as the company's shareholders lost everything, says a new report from Harvard Law School.

The top five executives at Bear Stearns made a total of $1.4 billion from bonuses and equity sales between 2000 and 2008, while the top five executives at Lehman Brothers made around $1 billion during that same period -- the period during which the companies ran up the bad investments that would see them collapse in 2008, according to "The Wages of Failure" (PDF), a report from Harvard Law School's Program on Corporate Governance.

"The people who invested in these companies should feel betrayed," Nell Minow, a compensation expert at the Corporate Library, told NBC's Lisa Myers. "The whole idea of capitalism is that the people provide the capital and the executives take care of it for us. In this case, the people provided the capital, and the executives took it."

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