The end may finally be in sight for an ugly incident that has dogged Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) for about three years. If weekend reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are correct, Bristol-Myers is on the verge of reaching a settlement relating to accounting shenanigans that went on from 1999 to 2002 -- and inflated revenue by about $2.5 billion and profits by about $900 million.

According to unidentified sources, Bristol-Myers will agree to a set of conditions in exchange for a deferred prosecution -- a maneuver that will basically allow the company to escape prosecution by the Department of Justice if the company behaves and lives up to its end of the bargain.

Foremost among these conditions is the payment of a $300 million fine. Other conditions include splitting the CEO and chairman of the board titles and keeping a former federal judge on board as an independent monitor of business practices.

While $300 million might be a big chunk of change to you or me, it's not an especially big part of the nearly $6 billion in cash and marketable securities that Bristol-Myers reported for the past quarter. Even when you add in the past SEC settlement ($150 million) and the recent civil shareholder settlements ($389 million), Bristol-Myers has no major liquidity or dividend coverage issues to worry about.

That said, this settlement still leaves me cold.

As is always the case, the current shareholders will pay for the sins of past management.

It's uncertain whether or not the DOJ will elect to go after the former executives who launched this little accounting scam. Even if it does, history suggests that the punishments handed out won't be much worse than requiring them to disgorge any bonuses they received during the relevant period.

Sure, that may be painful, but is it really painful enough to discourage future executives from goosing the numbers when they feel the need (or think they can get away it)? I'd say, probably not. What I'd rather see is for the executives who initiated and carried out this scam to spend a little time in the type of prison referenced in the movie Office Space. Perhaps that would send a message that this sort of thing won't be tolerated lightly anymore.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).