The skeletons in Time Warner's ( TWX) closet were rattling again Tuesday. Shares in the New York media giant slipped 2% as reputed bubble-era accounting excesses -- an issue to which investors have turned a blind eye during the stock's recent resurgence -- returned to the foreground. Perhaps more ominously, the latest rumblings suggest current leadership could come under fire from regulators. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission is ready to recommmend enforcement proceedings against Time Warner over some disputed revenue booked in 2001. At issue is the accounting treatment of certain 2001 deals with German media giant Bertelsmann. The deals gave the company, then known as AOL Time Warner, some $400 million in revenue at a time when it was notoriously
struggling to keep pace with Wall Street's giant expectations. Citing people familiar with the investigation, the Post said the SEC plans to send a so-called Wells Notice, notifying Time Warner that a civil action is possible, by early summer. Time Warner told investors in March of 2003 that the agency was investigating its accounting of the agreements , which were America Online's biggest advertising transactions at the time. Time Warner, which has for more than a year acknowledged investigations into its accounting by both the SEC and the Justice Department, "intends to continue its efforts to cooperate with both the SEC and the DOJ investigations to resolve these matters," a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Since being disclosed, the ongoing SEC and DOJ investigations have hung over Time Warner's stock and its strategic planning. A public offering of Time Warner's cable business -- not to mention the occasionally rumored spinoff of the AOL division itself -- are unlikely, Street pundits say, until the parent company can offer a clean bill of health on disputed finances. On Tuesday, Time Warner shares slipped 34 cents to $17.03. Even so, the stock is up some 40% on its year-ago level and up 70% on its late 2001 low. Shares in Time Warner's predecessor company, America Online, traded as high as $95.81 in the run-up to the 2001 merger that brought the two giants together.