A long-running story got an update late last night when discount retailer Dollar General (NYSE:DG) said the SEC's staff may recommend a civil action against the company for circumstances surrounding a past restatement of its earnings. What's more, the umbrella of the investigation seems to have widened: IBM (NYSE:IBM) received notice that some of its actions fall under the scope of the SEC's inquiry.

This story goes back a ways. Dollar General said back in April 2001 that it found some accounting problems and, as a result, would restate financial information for the 2000, 1999 and 1998 fiscal years. Predictably, a pile of shareholder lawsuits cropped up as a result. The company settled with most of the plaintiffs a year later, and that part of the tale is more or less over.

Yesterday brought better news for Dollar General, with the company releasing December sales figures. The retailer managed a 4.3% increase in same-store sales for the month, with the average customer purchase (in dollars) and same-store customer transactions also rising year over year. (Dollar General is a value retailer, but don't be fooled by the name: It's not a "dollar store" like the likes of Dollar Tree (NASDAQ:DLTR), 99 Cents Only (NYSE:NDN) and others.)

Dollar General shares ticked downward slightly in morning trading on the news. (IBM's were also down somewhat at last check.) The long-term effects, if any, are unclear. SEC penalties, should any be levied, aren't generally of the sort that would bankrupt a company, and Dollar General has no shortage of cash. At this point, it may be more important to note that investigations of this type can remain quiet for some time -- but that doesn't mean they've gone away.

Share your thoughts on Dollar General and the SEC's investigation on our Dollar General discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at dmarnach@fool.com.