Michael Balog used to be the public face of Banc of America Securities, regularly showing up on television to discuss the buying and selling of stocks. Now, the former director of equity marketing and institutional sales at the Bank of America ( BAC) unit is in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission over his own stock trading. Balog, who left the brokerage two years ago, is a central figure in an SEC investigation of whether senior managers made stock trades in advance of rating changes by the firm's equity analysts, according to sources and an SEC administrative order. Balog's attorney, Audrey Strauss, a partner with Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in New York, said her client is "cooperating with the investigation and would continue to do so." Balog, who no longer works in the brokerage business, had been a regular commentator on business programs on the cable network CNN before abruptly leaving BofA in February 2002. The bank paid a $10 million fine to the SEC for impeding that investigation by failing to supply promptly the documents and email records investigators had been seeking. But now that BofA has finally complied with the SEC's requests, the original investigation into allegations of front-running at the securities firm is getting back on track, people familiar with the inquiry said. The SEC hasn't made any decision on whether to pursue an enforcement action against Balog or any other former BofA employees. An SEC official declined to comment on the status of the investigation, except to say it is continuing. A spokeswoman for the bank's securities division declined to comment. The SEC didn't identify Balog by name in the settlement it reached with the bank. But the document pointed a finger at him, noting that the director of marketing was questioned by the SEC in October 2002.
In the order, the SEC revealed that the bank also had suspicions about some of Balog's personal trading. Certain bank documents, many of which were not turned over to the SEC until last November, revealed the bank's compliance division had been conducting its own inquiry into "suspicious trading" by Balog and others. The SEC, in the order, said the bank's compliance department was specifically looking into "stock purchases by the director of marketing and others prior to a ratings upgrade of the security by a BAS research analyst." The compliance department, just as the SEC is trying to do, wanted to know whether those executives had advance knowledge of the analyst's upgrade. Meanwhile, on another regulatory front, Bloomberg, the financial wire service, reported that BofA will pay at least $250 million in fines and restitution over its role in the mutual fund trading scandal. Settlement talks between the bank and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer have been taking place for several months, and a deal is expected sometime in the next few weeks. The securities arm of the bank allegedly helped Canary Capital Partners and other hedge funds engage in illegal late-trading of mutual fund shares. A former BofA broker currently is facing trial on criminal charges in the matter.