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BofA Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Stocks in this article: BAC

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- Bank of America (BAC) has a difficult choice to make: wrangle with the government or with litigious shareholders. Neither option is particularly desirable and both appear to have become increasingly costly.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank is locked in battles with an array of government investigators over its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. It is also locked in at least 21 shareholder lawsuits directly related to the merger, not including a handful of legal skirmishes against Merrill individually, or others that have been filed since Dec. 31. While BofA has not given a cost projection for all these cases, the lawyer fees alone accelerate along with added legal headaches.

The government probes have discovered many juicy tidbits that were unknown when shareholders approved the merger on Dec. 5. But they have so far been unable to pinpoint an individual to "blame" for what went wrong.

Among the revelations so far: BofA knew about Merrill's spiraling losses, but did not disclose that information immediately. It knew Merrill planned to distribute $5.8 billion worth of bonuses before the merger, but did not object to the pay packages or disclose them, either. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pressured Ken Lewis, the bank's CEO, to move forward with the deal, despite his reservations.

Bank of America has said repeatedly that it did nothing wrong. When asked who was responsible for making controversial decisions, the bank has said top executives based ultimate decisions on consultations with one another, with regulators, and with legal counsel. When asked for evidence of what, specifically, lawyers had advised, Bank of America has said the information is protected by attorney-client privilege.

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