Bank of America Corp., grappling with the slowing economy and set to acquire Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., purged about 20 high-ranking executives last week, including some longtime loyalists of chief executive officer Kenneth Lewis.

The cuts were the first among 30,000 to 35,000 expected over the next three years at B of A.

The high-ranking executives were from the Charlotte company's "band 1" layer of management, a rung below Mr. Lewis and the other C-level executives.

Among those asked to leave, according to people familiar with the situation and internal bank communications, were deputy general counsel David Onorato; Helga Houston, a compliance and risk management executive for global consumer and small-business banking; Lance Drummond, a senior e-commerce executive in charge of the company's Web site; Brad Dinsmore, head of consumer banking on the West Coast; Mark Ricci, a sales, service, and integration executive; and Chris Swecker, hired in 2006 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to run B of A's corporate security organization.

Another was general counsel Tim Mayopoulos, who was replaced by Brian Moynihan, most recently head of corporate and investment banking.

Bank of America disclosed Mr. Mayopoulos' departure last week but did not signal that it was part of a larger set of high-level layoffs. It declined to comment on the other departures. "We only announce personnel changes when it involves the very top people in the company," said Scott Silvestri, a spokesman. "We don't believe it is appropriate to publicize other such decisions due to the privacy concerns of our associates."

Former Bank of America executives said the ousters were among the largest of longtime executives during Mr. Lewis' seven-year leadership of B of A.

"They were very loyal soldiers," said a person familiar with the situation. "This was a real shock and a major blow."

The 30,000 to 35,000 job cuts would trim Bank of America's work force by 10% to 11% after it completes the Merrill deal, which is expected to close by Jan. 1. The cuts reflect redundancies to be created by the Merrill acquisition and the "current recessionary environment," Bank of America said.

Another spokesman, Robert Stickler, acknowledged last week that some reductions relating to the financial crisis had started, without specifying where the cuts were made. He said the layoff notices so far were "relatively immaterial" in number.

Top executives from Bank of America and Merrill are meeting this week to discuss more cuts, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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