When confronted with government inquiries, public companies commonly grapple with the issue of when events have escalated to the point that they are subject to disclosure obligations—or, further yet, require recognition as a loss reserve in the financial statements. Is one or both of these requirements triggered when the government initially informs the company of the inquiry’s existence? When the magnitude and frequency of the government’s informational requests provide reasonable notice of a full-blown investigation? When the government rejects the company’s efforts to discontinue the investigation? Or when the government and company commence settlement discussions? While the seminal moment when each of these obligations solidifies can be quite fact-specific, the Division of Enforcement provided its own guidepost last week as to when disclosure and loss recognition become necessary.
On January 29, the SEC announced settled charges with four public companies for failing to maintain adequate internal control over financial reporting (ICFR). According to the respective orders, each of these companies repeatedly disclosed material weaknesses involving “certain high-risk areas of their financial statement presentation” over numerous annual reporting periods. Yet, despite these public acknowledgments, the SEC alleged that these companies took “months, or years, to remediate their material weaknesses,” even after being contacted by the SEC. In addition to cease-and-desist orders, the SEC levied monetary penalties against each company ranging from $35,000 to $200,000.
In announcing these settlements, the SEC emphasized that these proceedings were predicated on the registrants’ unreasonable delays in remediating the disclosed internal control deficiencies, rather than the disclosures themselves. Melissa Hodgman, an Associate Director in the SEC’s Enforcement Division, stated in the press release accompanying … Read More »
SEC Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker spoke before the Baruch College Financial Reporting Conference on May 3, 2018. As in recent presentations, Mr. Bricker commenced these remarks by addressing briefly several hot button corporate accounting and disclosure obligations. This discussion included specific mention of the proper application of recently operative revenue recognition rules and the pending adoption of lease and credit loss standards, which will take effect in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Mr. Bricker then reserved a significant portion of his remaining commentary to emphasize the importance and responsibility of one particular group of professionals in advancing the quality of financial reporting: audit committee members.
Mr. Bricker’s initial reference to audit committees arose in the context of non-GAAP financial measures which, as he has stated previously, should be used as a supplement but not a substitute for financial reporting in conformity with … Read More »
A June 15, 2017 settlement with two former executives of a publicly-traded, multinational freight forwarding and logistics company provides the most recent example of two emerging SEC enforcement initiatives in financial reporting and accounting-based actions that we spotlighted recently – a non-reliance on financial statement materiality and an absence of fraud-based allegations. Exchange Act Rel. No. 80947 (Jun. 15, 2017). According to the SEC, Eric W. Kirchner and Richard G. Rodick, the former chief executive officer and chief financial officer of UTi Worldwide, Inc. (“UTi”), purportedly were responsible for inadequate Management’s Discussion & Analysis (“MD&A”) disclosures in a Form 10-Q that UTi issued during fiscal year 2013. Without admitting or denying the findings, both agreed to settle purported violations of Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-13, and 13a-14, thereunder, and to pay a $40,000 civil penalty.
According … Read More »
On February 3, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected an accountant’s argument that the imposition of both criminal charges and SEC sanctions on the basis of the same alleged conduct violated the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. This appellate court ruling illustrates that defendants in SEC investigations and enforcement proceedings must be mindful that the imposition of civil penalties, disgorgement, and permanent bars do not preclude the prospect of criminal prosecution.
Thomas D. Melvin (“Melvin”), a certified public accountant, agreed in April 2013 to pay the SEC a civil penalty of $108,930 and disgorgement of $68,826 to settle alleged violations of Sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 10b-5 and 14e-3 thereunder. According to the SEC, Melvin purportedly had disclosed confidential insider information that he received from a … Read More »
In January, the SEC settled no fewer than seven enforcement proceedings with companies that involved alleged violations of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). While the sheer number of settlements would have been remarkable on its own, when examined individually, these proceedings reveal both emerging enforcement initiatives and recent historical trends in accounting-based actions. This article spotlights three particularly noteworthy observations from the first month of 2017.
The Emergence of Non-GAAP Financial Measures
In 2016, the SEC placed growing emphasis on perceived abuses of non-GAAP financial measures under Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K. This included the Division of Corporation Finance’s (CorpFin) Compliance & Disclosure Interpretations in May and former Chair Mary Jo White’s speech before the International Corporate Governance Network in June. On January 18, 2007, the SEC settled its first enforcement action predicated on this alleged activity. Exchange … Read More »
On July 22, 2016, the SEC suspended an accounting firm and permanently suspended one of its former partners for conducting a defective audit for a publicly-traded company allegedly engaged in a fraud scheme that resulted in numerous material misstatements on its financial statements. Exchange Act Rel. No. 78393 (July 22, 2016). These suspensions derived from the SEC’s settlement with New York-based EFP Rotenberg, LLP and engagement partner Nicholas Bottini, CPA, for audit services performed on behalf of ContinuityX Solutions, Inc., which claimed to sell Internet services to businesses. The SEC found that EFP Rotenberg violated and Bottini aided and abetted and caused EFP Rotenberg’s violations of Sections 10A(a)(1) and 10A(a)(2) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 2-02(b)(1) of Regulation S-X. It also concluded that the accounting firm and its former audit partner engaged in improper professional conduct … Read More »
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement has made a concerted effort in recent months to warn auditors and other corporate “gatekeepers” that it intends to scrutinize the adequacy of related party disclosures in financial filings. This emerging trend continued on April 29, 2015, when the SEC announced the settlement of an enforcement proceeding against McGladrey LLP partner Simon Lesser. See Exchange Act Rel. 74827 (Apr. 29, 2015). Lesser, who served as lead engagement partner during McGladrey’s financial statement audits of investment advisory firm Alpha Titans LLC and several related private funds over a four-year fiscal span, settled claims that he engaged in improper professional conduct within the meaning of Section 4C of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 102(e)(1)(iv)(B)(2) of the SEC’s Rules of Practice. The SEC also alleged that Lesser willfully aided and abetted and caused his audit … Read More »
On October 16, the SEC publicized its preliminary enforcement results for fiscal year 2014. In what it described as a “successful enforcement year,” the Commission brought a record 755 actions and obtained $4.16 billion in penalties and disgorgement. These 2014 figures translate to an average of $5.5 million per action, which is 11% higher than the penalties and disgorgement obtained per action in fiscal year 2013 and a whopping 30% upsurge from just two fiscal years ago. It is not a coincidence that these developments correspond neatly with the appointment of Mary Jo White as SEC Chair in 2013. In fact, Chair White has been candid from the outset of her tenure about the Commission’s intention, under her direction, to “make aggressive use of our existing penalty authority, recognizing that meaningful monetary penalties—whether against companies or individuals—play a very important … Read More »
Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar provided the most recent illustration of the SEC’s renewed emphasis on enforcement actions involving accounting and financial statement fraud when, on August 28, 2014, he issued a rare written dissent from the agreed-upon settlement in In the Matter of Lynn R. Blodgett and Kevin R. Kyser, CPA,File No. 3-16045 (Aug. 28, 2014). In Blodgett, the SEC charged the former chief executive officer and chief financial officer of Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (“ACS”) with causing the company’s failure to comply with its reporting, record-keeping, and internal control obligations in violation of Sections 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A), and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, 13a-11, 13a-13, and 13a-14 thereunder. The two senior executives collectively paid nearly $675,000 in penalties, disgorgement and prejudgment interest to settle these cease-and-desist proceedings.
According to the SEC, ACS overstated revenue by $124.5 million … Read More »