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Securities regulators censured and fined three big Wall Street firms a total of $15 million for improper practices in doling out shares of hot IPOs during the bubble era.

The three firms,

Bear Stearns



Morgan Stanley



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Deutsche Bank

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, received "unusually large commissions" from some customers who were given access to shares in a number of red-hot stock offerings, according to the NASD, the brokerage industry's main self-regulatory organization.

In settling with the firms, the NASD ordered Bear Stearns to pay $4.95 million, Deutsche Bank to pay $5.29 million and Morgan Stanley to pay $5.39 million.

"None of these firms was providing unusual or extraordinary services tojustify these very high commissions," said Mary L. Schapiro, NASD vicechairman and president of regulatory policy and oversight. "There was nolegitimate reason to pay these firms millions of dollars more than otherfirms would charge to carry out routine trades."

The settlement with the firms reveals another unsavory business practice that Wall Street investment banks engaged in during the boom market of the late 1990s.

Regulators allege that customers who were given access to hot initial public offerings rewarded the firms by paying excessive commissions on trades in other stocks.

For instance, a Bear Stearns customer who was allocated 125,000 shares in a hot IPO in November 1999, paid a $2 a share commission on a trade involving another stock. The typical commission on that 50,000-share trade would have been 6 cents a share, for a total of $3,000. But with the inflated commission price, the customer paid a $100,000 commission.

However, it's not likely the Bear Stearns customer was upset by this excessive commission arrangement. The NASD says the customer scored a $1 million profit by quickly selling shares from the IPO.