Securities regulators have launched an informal probe of mutual fund and brokerage firms to determine whether brokers doled out lavish gifts to attract trading business.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and NASD are looking at roughly two dozen companies that may have handed out improper gifts to fund employees including expensive wine, trips on private jets, Super Bowl tickets and foursomes at upscale golf courses, representing clear violations of specific NASD rules.

The NASD prohibits any employee of a member firm from giving a business associate a gift exceeding $100 in value over the course of a year. That rule does not apply to client dinners and other forms of standard business entertainment, but rather egregious spending on big-ticket items.

"We're concerned about any conflict of interest that could distract a mutual fund trader from his obligation to consider the interests of fund investors first and foremost," said Lori Richards, director of the SEC's office of compliance, inspections and examinations.

The investigation seems to have been prompted by the noise surrounding a trader at Jefferies & Co., Kevin Quinn, who was fired for racking up improper travel and entertainment expenses related to entertaining Fidelity Investments, his only client.

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