READING, Pa. -- Meridian Bancorp said its board has authorized the creation of a leveraged, tax-qualified employee stock ownership plan, to be funded with open market purchases of Meridian's common stock.

Samuel A. McCullough, chairman and chief executive officer, said the plan will be aimed at improving Meridian's employee benefit programs and enhancing shareholder value by increasing employee involvement in the company.

The ESOP trust will purchase up to 2,000,000 shares, roughly 3.5% of Meridian's 58,000,000 outstanding in the open market or in negotiated transactions. The trust will borrow from Meridian, which intends to fund the loan either through an institutional borrowing or underwritten sale of debt.

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