U.S. prosecutors investigate Brixmor accounting issues

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation related to shopping center owner and operator Brixmor Property Group Inc's BRX.N disclosure earlier this year that accounting personnel had manipulated its financial results.

Specialist trader Peter Giacchi (R) shouts out a price for Brixmor Property Group Inc. during the company's IPO on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, in New York October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Brixmor, one of the largest U.S. shopping center landlords, revealed the investigation by the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.

The SEC is also investigating, the company previously has said, and Brixmor said it is cooperating with both investigations.

Stacy Slater, a Brixmor spokeswoman, on Wednesday said the company would make no further comment on the investigation beyond what it disclosed.

A spokeswoman for Bharara declined to comment.

Based in New York, Brixmor owns and operates more than 500 properties in 38 states and serves as the largest landlord for retailers TJX Cos Inc TJX.N and Kroger Co KR.N. It was taken public in 2013 by Blackstone Group LP BX.N.

The probes came after Brixmor on Feb. 8 announced its board had concluded that accounting and financial reporting personnel had been “smoothing income items” between reporting periods to show consistent growth in same-property net operating income.

Brixmor at the same time announced the resignations of Chief Executive Michael Carroll, Chief Financial Officer Michael Pappagallo and Chief Accounting Officer Steven Splain, along with an accounting employee.

The news caused Brixmor’s share price to plunge from $26.42 to $21.10, wiping out around $1.6 billion in market capitalization, according to a proposed shareholder class action lawsuit filed in March in Manhattan federal court.

Brixmor ultimately did not restate any financial results, and said the actual amount of misstatement was “not significant.”

But based on an audit committee review, Brixmor has said its board concluded there was “a deficiency in the control environment.” The company has said it has been taking remedial steps to address what it called a “material weakness.”

Lawyers for Carroll, Pappagallo and Splain did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Brixmor shares were trading at $26.27, down 1.5 percent.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz