Email, our beloved near-instantaneous way of talking to friends and workers alike, can come back and bite -- hard. That's the situation two analysts from Credit Suisse's(NYSE: CSR) Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) find themselves in now, after joking about a little ratings dance dubbed the "Agilent Two-Step." One analyst, Tim Mahon, sent email in 2000 to another, Elliott Rogers, encouraging him to publicly have a "buy" rating on Agilent(NYSE: A) while "verbally everyone knows your position."

Isn't this refrain from the big investment-banking houses becoming sickeningly familiar? Love the stock publicly and recommend it to as many hapless souls as possible, while secretly thinking the company's not all that. But, hey, maybe you'll get some investment-banking business out of them.

The suspicion that investment banks have been behaving this way as a matter of course is not new. What's so disturbing to see, though, as revelations like these creep up from houses on the Street, is that the deception was not only willful but calculated and even trivial.

To be so flip as to actually call it the "Agilent Two-Step" paints an ugly picture of the way some business was done at CSFB. Apparently we're not the only ones who think so, as Massachusetts's top state securities regulator has filed a criminal referral with New York's attorney general on the matter. Because of Massachusetts law, regulators there could only file civil charges; in New York, however, where the actions took place, criminal charges are available.

Pointing to a heap of emails, the Massachusetts regulators claim that not only was there zero regard for fiduciary duty, but that a pattern of bad behavior at CSFB is evident, with analysts thinking one thing and saying another. That's illegal (not to mention despicable).

For its part, CSFB says that, in the two years since the emails were written, the company has taken steps to improve its analysts' independence. That's nice and all, but it won't save the company from criminal prosecution should New York's regulators agree with the evidence presented by Massachusetts and decide to file charges. The road to analyst independence is already littered with refuse from Salomon Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch. Looks like Credit Suisse First Boston may be up next.