U.S. Attorney investigating General Motors recall

March 12, 2014: 10:40 AM ET
general motors Chevrolet Cobalt
The Chevrolet Cobalt is among the General Motors vehicle impacted by the ignition switch issue.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

A federal prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation into General Motors' handling of a vehicle fault that resulted in at least 13 deaths, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The probe is by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, CNN has learned.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to either confirm or deny it was pursuing an investigation, and a spokesman said the office generally does not speak about investigations in the early stages.

General Motors (GM) spokesman Alan Adler said Tuesday night the company had no comment.

General Motors knew a decade ago of issues with the ignition switches of several popular models, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac's G5 and Solstice, and Saturn's Sky and Ion.

Related: General Motors recall timeline

It only announced a recall in February. Nearly two weeks later, it expanded the number of affected vehicles in North America from 780,000 to 1.4 million. It also disclosed additional deaths.

Federal law requires automakers notify a federal safety board within five days of discovering an issue.

GM's new CEO, Mary Barra, recently defended the company's actions in a letter to employees, saying it acted "without hesitation" and "well beyond" recommendations by technical experts. Another company official said GM's review of the issue "was not as robust as it should have been."

Related: GM might not pay for recall deaths

The criminal investigation would join reviews led by the National Transportation Safety Administration, Congress and an internal GM probe.

--CNN's Evan Perez and CNNMoney's Chris Isidore Katie Lobosco contributed to this report

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