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Will Goldman Mess Taint Bank of America?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- "Who's Tom Montag?" Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) boomed during Tuesday's grilling of Goldman Sachs (GS) executives.

Levin did not get a full answer to his question on Tuesday, but that answer could have big implications for Bank of America (BAC), where Montag is the head of the investment bank and was the company's highest-paid executive in 2009, earning $29.9 million.

The words "Bank of America," may never have been uttered during Tuesday's Senate hearing, and Montag's name soon faded into the background. But Levin referred to Montag's e-mail repeatedly throughout the proceedings, practically beating Goldman CFO David Viniar over the head with it at one point, as Barron's noted in this blog entry.

That's right, Montag was the author of the now-notorious "s****y deal," e-mail. While holding a senior position at Goldman, Montag wrote a message to Daniel Sparks, the former head of Goldman's mortgage business, that read "Boy that timberwolf was one s****y deal," according to Levin. Timberwolf was a highly complex $1 billion pool of mortgage-related securities that Goldman put together and sold to investors.

Montag's e-mail could prove troublesome for Bank of America. If Montag was complicit in the selling of deals he thought were "s****y" while he was at Goldman, what makes anyone think he would do anything different at Bank of America, some might wonder.

An email message and two phone calls to Montag were not returned, and a Bank of America spokeswoman declined to comment.

Even if Montag does not become a central target in the Securities and Exchange Commission's fraud case against Goldman, Bank of America will have a tough time telling clients it is any more honorable.

You can imagine the conversation:

Bank of America salesman to investor: We have a great deal here for you.

Investor: Why should I trust you?

Bank of America salesman: C'mon, we're not Goldman.

Investor: No? Isn't your boss the ex-Goldman guy who sold the deal he himself described as "s****y?"

While the SEC's fraud case against Goldman Sachs has had an impact on all large investment banks since it was announced April 16, Goldman's rivals have to a certain extent been able to dodge the spotlight of investors, regulators, legislators and the public. Goldman shares have dropped nearly 16% since April 15, the day before the SEC announced its charges, while Bank of America shares are down less than 9% during that time. But as Washington officials, commentators and the public ponder the full implications of the 10-hour hearing, Bank of America and Montag may end up facing further scrutiny.

Montag and the businesses he runs could scarcely be more important to Bank of America. The global banking and markets divisions, which were under Montag's leadership throughout most of 2009, earned more than $10.1 billion for Bank of America in 2009, while the bank overall earned less than $6.3 billion including the performance of banking and markets.

The involvement of Montag in the Goldman affair is just the latest example of the astonishing web of former Goldman executives spread throughout the financial system. After leaving Goldman for reasons that were never completely clear, Montag was recruited to run the global markets business at Merrill Lynch in 2008 by former Goldman colleague John Thain. Thain, former chief of Merrill and the NYSE Group (NYX), is now trying to rehabilitate both his own image and that of CIT Group (CIT), which he joined as CEO and Chairman earlier this year.

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