Bank of America's Merrill deal probed by FBI, Justice Dept.

The Charlotte ObserverSeptember 18, 2009 

The FBI in Charlotte and the U.S. Justice Department are among the multitude of agencies investigating Bank of America Corp.'s acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co., a knowledgeable source said Thursday.

The criminal investigation has been underway for about six months, the source said. The probe means an additional layer of scrutiny for the Charlotte-based bank, which bought Merrill on Jan. 1.

Bank of America already faces investigations from the New York Attorney General's office, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the N.C. Attorney General's office. Those probes have largely focused on the payment of billions in Merrill bonuses before the deal closed and the lack of disclosure of Merrill's ballooning fourth-quarter losses.

The previously disclosed investigations of the bank have appeared to largely involve civil matters that could lead to financial or regulatory penalties against the bank, or fines against some of its leaders.

The FBI involvement opens up the possibility of criminal charges, although the scope and possible outcome of the probe remain unclear.

FBI spokeswoman Amy Thoreson and Justice Department spokesman Ian McCaleb said they could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

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