Rep. Charles Rangel broke ethics rules, House panel finds [WaPo]
“A House ethics subcommittee announced Thursday that it found that Rep. Charles B. Rangel violated congressional ethics rules and that it will pr robably beginning in September. The panel is expected to make the details of his alleged violations public next Thursday.
Rangel (D-N.Y.) has been under the House ethics committee’s microscope since early 2008 after it was reported that he may have used his House position to benefit his financial interests. Two of the most serious inquiries have focused on Rangel’s failure to declare $239,000 to $831,000 in assets on his disclosure forms, and on his effort to raise money for a private center named after him at City College of New York using his congressional letterhead.”
Geithner: Taxes on Wealthiest to Rise [WSJ]
“The Obama administration will allow tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire on schedule, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Thursday, setting up a clash with Republicans and a small but vocal group of Democrats who want to delay the looming tax increases.
Mr. Geithner said the White House would allow taxes on top earners to increase in 2011 as part of an effort to bring down the U.S. budget deficit. He said the White House plans to extend expiring tax cuts for middle- and lower-income Americans, and expects to undertake a broader revision of the tax code next year.
‘We believe it is appropriate to let those tax cuts that go to the most fortunate expire,’ Mr. Geithner said at a breakfast with reporters.”
FASB Requires More Disclosures Around Credit Risk [Compliance Week]
“Accounting Standards Update No. 2010-20, Receivables (Topic 310) calls for more credit risk disclosures to give investors a better view of the credit risk in a company’s portfolio of receivables as well as the adequacy of its allowance for credit losses. Under the update, companies will be required to say more about aging receivables and credit quality indicators in particular.
The new disclosure requirements affect financing receivables and trade accounts receivable, including loans, trade accounts receivable that are greater than a year old, notes receivable, credit cards and receivables for certain leases. The new disclosure requirement does not affect short-term trade accounts receivable, receivables that are measured at fair value or the lower of cost or fair value, and debt securities.”
Convicted accountant Lewis Freeman’s friends urge leniency [Miami Herald]
“Miami’s go-to forensic accountant” Lewis Freeman is to be sentenced today for stealing nearly $3 million from victims of fraud who he was appointed to protect. He faces a dozen to fifteen years in prison but his friends and supporters have turned on the pity party, sending nearly 300 letters to Judge Paul Huck, asking for leniency.
“[E]very one of those letter writers also asks the judge to show mercy, emphasizing that the affable New York native should not have to languish in prison because he has done so much for institutions like his alma mater, the University of Miami, Miami Children’s Hospital and the Miami Children’s Museum, among others.”
No need for non-audit ban, regulator claims [Accountancy Age]
“Accountants will not have to give up their non-audit work for audit clients, under proposed guidelines released today, which have not recommended an outright ban, suggested by politicians in the wake of the financial crisis.
The Auditing Practices Board, of the Financial Reporting Council, which publishes guidance for auditors, does not believe an outright ban on non-audit services should be enacted and has instead proposed to tinker with present disclosure requirements.”
Could This Be a Real Deterrent? [Floyd Norris/NYT]
Despite the usual fare in the SEC’s settlement yesterday, Floyd Norris writes that the $4 million fine for Michael Dell and other executives is “refreshing.”
Something Wicked This Way Comes [CFO]
A recent Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) study discovered that “[o]f the top eight controls ranked by effectiveness, only one — surprise audits, which cut fraud losses by 51% — is part of the traditional accounting-based control structure. Financial-statement review, internal audits, and Sarbanes-Oxley-mandated certifications by CEOs and CFOs all ranked below the nonaccounting controls in terms of effectiveness in preventing fraud.”
Controls have no match for good old human conscience, “tips expose fraud three times as often as do management reviews, internal audits, or account reconciliations.”
The problem however, is that employees may not be getting the training about how to report fraud if they know it’s happening, “an unsupportive corporate culture and poor employee training leave potential whistle-blowers unsure of whom to talk to.” Plus the baddies are doing their best to dissuade them, as Sam Antar told CFO, “[They] don’t go down without a fight, they don’t fight fairly, and they are going to intimidate whistle-blowers — that’s the nature of their game.”
Accounting for Crisis [Portfolio.com]
Gary Weiss writes over at Portfolio about the impending decision in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB and he’s not impressed with the FEF’s argument, “claiming that the board would give our Founding Fathers heart attacks because its members are appointed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and not the president and can’t be removed except for cause.”
That despite the PCAOB’s lack of fireworks in its daily activities, “The PCAOB has not exactly rocked our world—and obviously its existence did nothing to keep Lehman from its Repo 105 book-cooking scheme. But getting rid of it, particularly on specious Constitutional grounds, would be a blow to the cause of more accurate financial statements.”
The odds say that the SCOTUS will affirm the lower court’s decision but just in case, Gary agrees with Interim PCAOB Chairman Dan Goelzer that Congress needs to act fast if the Court surprises us and reverses the decision.
Clifton Gunderson buys Stockton Bates [Philadelphia Business Journal]
Philadelphia-based Stockton Bates will join Clifton Gunderson’s 1,900 employees and 300 partners effective today. Stockton has 32 employees between three offices in Philadelphia, Lancaster, PA and Haddonfield, NJ.
BDO Seidman fights claims brought by fraudster Lew Freeman [South Florida Business Journal]
Convicted forensic accountant Lewis Freeman testified in the case of ES Bankest and BDO. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Freeman’s conviction could call his credibility as a witness into question as well as the Bankest bankruptcy proceedings, where Freeman acted as the court-appointed receiver.
Carl Levin To Goldman CFO: When You See ‘Sh–ty Deal’ E-mail, ‘Do You Feel Anything?’ [TPM]
Late in the proceedings of yesterday’s epic Senate subcommittee hearing (involving some of the Almighty’s finest), Goldman CFO David Viniar may have had a bit of a Freudian slip when he responded to potty-mouth Senator Carl Levin’s badgering.
Levin asked Viniar how he reacts to hearing about the email. “Do you feel anything?” Levin asked. Viniar replied: “I think that’s very unfortunate t hich got a smattering of laughter from around the room. Levin asked Viniar how he reacts to hearing about the email. “Do you feel anything?” Levin asked. Viniar replied: “I think that’s very unfortunate to have on e-mail,” which got a smattering of laughter from around the room. “On an e-mail?” Levin shot back angrily. “How about feeling that way?” Viniar started to backtrack: “I think that’s a very unfortunate thing for anyone to have said in any form.” “How about to believe that and sell that?” Levin asked. “I think that’s unfortunate as well,” Viniar responded.
That unfortunateness is in no particular order.
Brussels to scrutinise role of auditors [FT]
The EU has had it with auditors in their current form and is turning their stink eye towards the profession with a whole lot of skepticism, especially since Ernst & Young got in trouble over you-know-what.
Michel Barnier, the new EU internal market commissioner, joined the debate on Tuesday saying that the role of auditors needed closer scrutiny now that the financial turmoil of the past two years was subsiding.
“I’m convinced that it is the right time to launch a real debate at European level on the subject of audit. This conviction is reinforced by the questions recently raised in the context of the audit of the accounts of US bank Lehman Brothers,” Mr Barnier said.
The FT reports that the EU is kicking off this increased level of scrutiny by publishing a green paper this fall on the subject that will examine the way “audit firms are owned and governed…the concentration in the audit market and its implications on financial stability, the emergence of small and medium-sized practitioners, the audit of smaller companies and international standards on auditing,” and also the supervision of global audit firms.
PwC pays £427,000 damages over valuation work [Accountancy Age]
The original suit was for £35 million; that would a W for P. Dubs.
Miami accountant’s workers accused of aiding fraud [Miami Herald]
Two employees of “Miami’s go-to forensic accountant if you want to get ripped off” Lewis Freeman have been charged with conspiring with him in the embezzlement scheme that he pleaded guilty to last month.
SEC Chief Accountant Says Convergence Need Not Be Completed by June 2011 [Journal of Accountancy]
No rush on that, sayeth James Kroeker, on convergence by June 2011:
SEC Chief Accountant James Kroeker told the JofA Tuesday that he would support the boards’ cutting the number of projects due in June 2011, provided there was good rationale for a delay.
“June 30, 2011, is an arbitrary deadline and it’s not one that’s been put in place by the SEC or by our road map,” said Kroeker.
• A Growing Contagion: Accounting Fatigue Syndrome [CFO Blog]
Anyone getting worn out from all the guidance that is coming from the alphabet soup of regulators? You’re not alone and there appears to be an epidemic, something that CFO Blog has deemed “Accounting Fatigue Syndrome.” The long/short of it is that things are only going to get more complex as FASB and IASB continue to converge their rules and guidance continues to come out of both rule making bodies.
“Like many finance executives, Terry Lillis, CFO of Principal Financial Group, is tired. The constant stream of guidance from regulators and accounting standard-setters — plus the expected inflow of more to come over the next few years — has created “huge accounting fatigue” among his finance staff”
What’s the solution to AFS? How about just getting out of the biz altogether? “While the panelists gave no hope to CFOs who wish the standard-setters would either slow down or cut back on their agenda, they did offer one tip for ending accounting fatigue. ‘If I were a CFO, the first thing I would do is look at my early-retirement provisions,’ quipped J. Edward Grossman, a Crowe Horwath partner.”
• High-profile Miami accountant Lew Freeman to plead guilty to fraud [Miami Herald]
A couple of weeks ago we told you about “go-to” forensic accountant turned swindler Lewis Freeman and his legal trouble.
Today he is expected to plead guilty in Miami to embezzling $2.6 million from his clients. Prosecutors have alleged that Freeman, “wrote 162 unauthorized checks to himself totaling about $6 million from the accounts of five failed businesses once under his company’s control, but put back about half of the money.” Freeman has been cooperating with investigators since his arrest but still may face 10 – 20 years in prison.
• In Pari Delicto: Are Auditors Equally At Fault In The Big Fraud Cases? [Re: the Auditors]
Francine tackles PwC and KPMG’s defense strategy involving in pari delicto to avoid their roles in fraud cases.
The way I see it, the in pari delicto doctrine is being used like a pair of needle nosed pliers by audit firm defense lawyers to diffuse a bomb – huge liability for some of the biggest frauds in history. The in pari delicto doctrine attempts to pull the auditors’ tails from the fire by excusing any of their guilty acts due to the approval of those acts by potentially equally guilty executives.
Allegedly of course! Despite our best wishes for a forensic accountants to be fraud-busting crusaders that pursue truth, justice and all that crap, this corner of the profession is not immune from shiesty characters.
Lewis Freeman, “Miami’s go-to forensic accountant”, has been charged with embezzling $2.6 million from his clients. The Miami Herald is reporting that Lew has pleaded not guilty but is planning to change his plea to guilty “within a few weeks” while his attorneys try to negotiate a lighter sentence. The Herald also reports that two other employees of his firm, including the CFO, will be charged as co-conspirators in the case.
When you think about it, this really exposes Freeman as not being a very smart guy, just smarter than the people he was ripping off. As criminal mastermind Sam Antar told us in an email, “Lewis Freeman may have been considered ‘Miami’s go-to forensic accountant’ but he was not a very bright guy. He simply took old money from his client’s trust accounts and replenished it with new money. As a forensic accountant, he should have known that ultimately such Ponzi schemes end up collapsing over time.”
Despite this, Freeman was able to carry on the scheme for approximately a decade, swindling up to 250 victims.
Wondering what this latest development meant in terms of fraud involving forensic accountants, Sam told us, “Forensic accountants turned white collar criminals present a real challenge for law enforcement, since they (excluding Lewis Freeman) are far more sophisticated in their knowledge of anti-fraud measures and are more innovative in exploiting weaknesses in internal controls than the common white collar criminal.”
And don’t worry, they’re out there, “Freeman is probably not the only forensic accountant turned Ponzi schemer out there. The smarter and more sophisticated one’s have not been caught yet,” Sam said. Got it. Suspect everyone.
We first mentioned Lewis Freeman last fall when his firm was under investigation by the FBI and that his firm briefly served as the Chief Restructuring Officer for the Palm Beach Funds that were part of the Tom Petters orgy of fraud.
The bright side is we can’t foresee any scenario where the image of accountants gets worse.