A $10 million settlement between Bank of America ( BAC) and the SEC is pretty harsh medicine, but it does little to resolve the ongoing investigation of stock trading at the bank's securities unit. The Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday that Bank of America will fork over $10 million to settle allegations that it tried to impede the SEC probe, which centers on whether the bank traded on its own research. The bank, which also agreed to a censure, was cited under an enforcement action for breaking record-keeping and access provisions of the securities laws. The fine is the biggest ever imposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in such a case, and it is meant to deliver a message to Wall Street about the danger of getting in the way of federal agents. "Today's action makes clear that we will not tolerate unreasonable delay in responding to our inquiries, and will act aggressively to protect the integrity of the commission's investigative processes," said Stephen Cutler, the SEC's director of enforcement. But the penalty paid by the bank for foot-dragging may be just the start of BofA's problems. The SEC continues to investigate allegations that as many as seven former senior managers at Banc of America Securities, including a former marketing director, made stock trades in advance of soon-to-be released rating changes by the firm's equity analysts. TheStreet.com
was the first to report that the underlying SEC probe concerned possible allegations of front-running. An administrative order filed by the SEC as part of its settlement sheds more light on the allegations being investigated. In the summer of 2001, the document shows, the SEC received an anonymous letter containing allegations that senior managers in the bank's securities division "may have caused the firm to purchase or sell securities in the firm's proprietary accounts knowing such securities would be the subject of forthcoming upgrades, downgrades or other market-moving research reports by the firm's equity research department." Sources said regulators subsequently discovered that some of those bank employees also may have traded stocks for their own personal gain.