Our pal Francine McKenna at MarketWatch broke a pretty big news story today regarding an accountant who blew the whistle on Walt Disney Co. Disney whistleblower told SEC the company inflated revenue for years [MarketWatch] According to the whistleblower, Sandra Kuba, a former senior financial analyst in Disney’s revenue operations department who worked for the […]
Remember Leslie Seidman, the former chairman of the FASB? Well, she is now, among other things, a member of General Electric’s board of directors and chairman of its audit committee. She made an appearance on CNBC on Aug. 15 to comment on the report from Madoff whistleblower and forensic accountant Harry Markopolos that accuses GE […]
A certain report about General Electric caused quite the uproar yesterday. GE falls the most in 11 years after Madoff whistleblower calls it a ‘bigger fraud than Enron’ [CNBC] Boy, did Harry Markopolos send shares of GE into a tizzy on Aug. 15: Markopolos targeted the conglomerate in a new report, accusing it of issuing […]
Plus, Patisserie Valerie’s ex-chairman doesn’t have nice things to say about Grant Thornton and Steinhoff warns of lingering damage from massive accounting fraud. Lynch says HP’s Meg Whitman couldn’t cope with ‘all the fires’ [Bloomberg] On his first day of testimony, Autonomy founder Mike Lynch said Hewlett-Packard Co.’s executives made him a scapegoat for their […]
Hey, auditors! How confident are you that you wouldn’t royally screw up auditing the financial statements of a well-known U.K. cafe chain and could uncover a £94 million accounting fraud? Pretty confident, eh? Well, you couldn’t do much worse than the dolts Grant Thornton U.K. had handling the audit work on Patisserie Valerie’s accounts. While […]
Here’s some news on accounting frauds and scandals from the last couple of weeks that you might have missed. Malaysian police raid Deloitte office for 1MDB-related documents: sources [Reuters] Even though this is more scandal than fraud, whenever a Big 4 firm gets raided by police, we’ll fit it in somehow. This happened today: Malaysian […]
Catching you up on the latest fraud happenings in the world of accounting. Two Samsung employees arrested over alleged cover-up [Financial Times] Two executives of Samsung’s biopharmaceutical unit were arrested earlier this week on suspicion of destroying evidence to cover up an alleged $3.9 billion accounting fraud. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in South […]
We arrived late to a couple accounting fraud settlement parties thrown by the SEC recently. All the Lagunitas and buffalo chicken dip were gone, and we were stuck drinking Busch Light and munching on carrot sticks. But we’ll still recap what happened at these shindigs anyway. Silicon Valley startup Jumio’s ex-CEO settles SEC fraud charges […]
If you’re going to get busted for using fraudulent accounting practices to artificially inflate your company’s revenues, you might as well make it worth your while—or at least worth the fine you’re going to have to pay to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC levied fraudulent accounting charges against Tangoe, formerly a public telecommunications […]
A paper presented in August at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association in Anaheim, Calif., found that “the current Sino-phobic reaction to Chinese reverse mergers may be overblown.” In an effort to assess the performance of these often maligned companies, the study concluded that “as an asset class, Chinese reverse-merger firms (CRMs) have performed […]
The Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force is one of the three new initiatives in the DepartmentDivision of Enforcement that were announced by the Securities and Exchange Commission today. So if you're one of those people that cause Andrew Fastow to blush, then you're likely to be right in the FRATF's wheelhouse: The Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force will […]
An Ontario judged dismissed a case against three former Nortel Networks Corp. executives who were charged with accounting fraud at what was once North America’s largest telephone-equipment maker before its collapse in 2009. Judge Frank Marrocco said the burden of proof was not met in fraud charges against former Chief Executive Officer Frank Dunn, former Chief […]
When I finally got around to writing about the HP/Autonomy finger pointing party yesterday, the topic of fraud detection by auditors came up as it often does in these scenarios. More specifically, the statement that "audits are NOT designed to detect fraud." A friend of Going Concern emailed me later in the day with […]
Former Olympus CEO Michael "Go ahead and fuck with me, I'm from Liverpool" Woodford took a big risk blowing the whistle on the $1.5 billion accounting fraud at his old employer. In a show of thanks for finding the booboo, the company promptly fired him. A questionable strategy it seems because Mr. Woodford sued Olympus […]
The Diebold CFO, controller and Director of Corporate Accounting had a fairly standard routine back from 2002 to 2007 – 1) get daily “flash reports” 2) look at BS estimates that analysts came up with 3) cook up some ideas for meeting those estimates 4) make up the numbers.
Pretty standard stuff, especially if you buy the idea that “legally cooking the books is a critical skill for attracting investors.”
The SEC presented the accounting hocus-pocus earlier today:
The SEC alleges that Diebold’s financial management received “flash reports” — sometimes on a daily basis — comparing the company’s actual earnings to analyst earnings forecasts. Diebold’s financial management prepared “opportunity lists” of ways to close the gap between the company’s actual financial results and analyst forecasts. Many of the opportunities on these lists were fraudulent accounting transactions designed to improperly recognize revenue or otherwise inflate Diebold’s financial performance.
Among the fraudulent accounting practices used to inflate earnings and meet forecasts were:
• Improper use of “bill and hold” accounting.
• Recognition of revenue on a lease agreement subject to a side buy-back agreement.
• Manipulating reserves and accruals.
• Improperly delaying and capitalizing expenses.
• Writing up the value of used inventory.
Gotta give yourself some options, amiright? Can’t just simply rely on channel stuffing!
But in all seriousness, if you’re a top financial executive at a company and part of your daily routine is finding ways to increase profitability through accounting manipulation, at some point you’d have to think to yourself, “This is one shitty business we’re running.”
As if it wasn’t a big enough risk already, CFOs may have to brace themselves for more private litigation over accounting fraud if a court decision on April 21 involving failed telecom equipment maker REMEC serves as precedent. The good news is that plaintiffs will have to show evidence of the executives’ intent in such cases.
Most cases involving accounting are either dismissed because they involve judgment or are settled before they go to trial, Robert Brownlie, a partner in the law firm of DLA Piper who represented the defendants in the REMEC case, told CFOZone last Thursday. The Del Mar, Calif., company filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
One of the largest such cases involved former Lucent executives, whom shareholders charged had defrauded them through improper accounting for goodwill. In that case, shareholders agreed in 2003 to accept a $600 million settlement.
In contrast to the Lucent case, the one filed by shareholders against REMEC’s former CEO, Ronald Ragland, and former CFO, Winston Hickman, was dismissed, though it also rested on charges that they misled investors because they didn’t write off goodwill that was impaired.
But the dismissal was more difficult to achieve than it would otherwise have been, said Brownlie, because the plaintiffs submitted evidence of internal reports and testimony showing that the company was behind schedule on certain objectives and not meeting its internal forecasts. The court said that those reports created a factual issue that should be determined by a jury; the defendants had to show there was no evidence of intent to deceive on the part of management.
“Normally, with matters of opinion or judgment, you either can’t bring a suit or it’s very difficult to do so,” Brownlie said. But he warned that the decision could mean more cases against corporate executives over accounting fraud.
The court dismissed the charges even though the plaintiffs’ accounting experts testified that they would have reached different conclusions than the former executives did.
Brownlie added that his case was helped by evidence of good faith conduct by the defendants, including evidence of transparency between the company and its auditors, disclosures of disappointing results and write-offs of other accounting items during the period of the alleged fraud and the absence of stock sales.
Describing the outcome for CFOs as “both good and bad news,” Brownlie said the decision showed that the critical issue in such cases will be “a connection between claims and evidence.” And he cautioned that in other accounting cases, it’s likely to be harder to defend executives on the basis of intent, which is why he said “there’s a paradox” in the REMEC decision.
• Companies are making fewer accounting mistakes [USA Today]
“In another potential boost to investor confidence, the era of sloppy accounting appears to be ending,” declares USA Today. Okay but perfection is unattainable people, so until machines take over for you, keep at it. In the meantime, the results presented by Audit Analytics certainly indicate that things are going in the right direction.
We don’t want to be the party pooper here but if accounting is less sloppy, i.e. more sophisticated, doesn’t that mean that the methods for massaging the accounting are also more sophisticated? Just chew on that while you check the the findings.
The article lists three reasons for the improvement in reporting:
• There is steady and ongoing improvement. The number of companies with restatements and the number of restatements have declined in each of the past three years.
• Mistakes are getting caught sooner. Among the companies with restatements, errors covered a period of 476 days, or less than a year and a half. That’s down 7% from 2008 and well below the 716 days, or nearly two years, of problematic numbers restated in 2006.
• Restatements are less serious. Restatements reduced companies’ reported earnings by $4.6 million on average last year, down dramatically from the $7.2 million and $23.5 million hits in 2008 and 2006.
Even though it’s virtually impossible to eliminate restatements, we must admit that these are encouraging trends. Another thing to keep in mind is that accounting rules are becoming increasingly complex so it’s not like things will be on cruise control from here on out.
• Defiant Rep. Charles Rangel vows reelection bid despite uproar over alleged ethics violations [NYDN]
Ethics violations be damned! The 79-year-old announced over the weekend that he would be seeking reelection. It would be his 21st term in Congress, first winning election in 1970. Even if Rangs is able to do another victory dance, holding on to his Chairmanship of the Ways & Means will be a different matter entirely. PBO has already distanced himself from Chuck and some are saying that even Nancy Pelosi is getting creeped out a little too.
• Skilling Asks High Court for New Trial Minus ‘Tar and Feathers’ [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
The Supreme Court will consider Jeff Skilling’s appeal today in the Enron scandal that he was convicted of four years ago. Skilling’s attorneys will argue that the trial should not have been held in Houston where it would have been “impossible” to get a fair trial.
Skilling’s appeal says the atmosphere in Houston when the trial began in January 2006 was one of hostility toward him, fed by unrelenting and “searing” media coverage. The appeal points to a Houston Chronicle column titled “Your Tar and Feathers Ready? Mine Are” and a local rap song, “Drop the S Off Skilling.”
The 12 jurors reflected that antipathy, Skilling contends. During pretrial questioning, three said they were “angry,” three said they had negative feelings toward Skilling or doubted his impartiality and one said that all CEOs were “greedy,” according to his appeal.
Skilling is currently doing far worse than tar and feathers (probably NBD in this day and age), serving a 24 year sentence in a Colorado prison. If the SCOTUS rules in his favor on the “jury-bias” issue Skilling would get a new trial which open old wounds and could create a media circus (we hope).
In today’s edition of “They just made the numbers up,” the SEC has charged Home Solutions of America, Inc. with inflating revenues based on phantom business deals related to restoration projects after Hurricane Katrina and other weather-related disasters.
According to the Commission’s complaint, Home Solutions issued several “materially false press releases” bragging about their kick ass results after doing work related to the damage caused by Katrina.
The scheme wasn’t exactly rocket science, as the former, CEO, CFO and one Director created phony invoices in order to record fake accounts receivable. They also decided that cash basis accounting was more their speed, expensing bonuses when they were paid rather than earned, in order to inflate their earnings.
All this hocus-pocus led to a run up in the stock price, which in turn, resulted in the former CEO, Frank Fradella selling over $6 million in shares based on the inflated price. The stock later tanked after massive insider stock sales, the filing of the lawsuit alleging fraud, and the Company’s announcement that they had to restate their financial statements.
And because we know you’re wondering, the most recent auditor we can find for Home Solutions is KMJ Corbin & Company LLP. We left a voicemail seeking comment but so far our calls have gone unreturned.
SEC Charges Hurricane Restoration Company and Executives in Post-Katrina Accounting Fraud [SEC Press Release]