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Fidelity Gift Probe Reaches Executive Suite

The investigation into inappropriate gifts from brokers to Fidelity Investments traders, potentially influencing their directed-brokerage decisions, reached the upper-echelon offices of the Boston fund giant last week.

Investigators at the Securities and Exchange Commission are now joining ongoing grand jury and Justice Department probes into gifts from unnamed brokerage firms. Fidelity confirmed the SEC probe last Tuesday.

Under the spotlight now, are Fidelity Chairman and CEO Edward C. Johnson III and his wife, Fidelity heir-apparent Abigail Johnson and Peter Lynch of Fidelity Magellan fame, now vice chairman of the firm's money management unit.

Fidelity spokeswoman Anne Crowley denied the charges, saying, "Any implication that the Johnsons were involved in regular or repeated acceptance of tickets or other gifts is completely false."

Crowley went on to say that said parties were only involved in making "trading decisions, not in the decisions of what will be traded nor who we trade with."

The elder Johnsons are accused of accepting tickets to a figure-skating competition at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Top-shelf tickets to such games can run as high as $400 apiece. Their daughter, who used to run Fidelity's investment management unit and is now in charge of retirement services, is said to have asked traders to actively seek tickets from brokers.

If the SEC finds the firm didn't apply best-execution rules in directing its influential, lucrative blocks of brokerage trades, the Commission could bring civil-fraud charges against people working at the firm - or potentially even the firm itself.

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