Category: Financial Fraud
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 »
SEC “Claws Back” Bonuses and Stock Sale Profits From CFOs of Public Company Charged With Accounting Fraud
On February 10, 2015, the SEC announced settlements with two former chief financial officers of Saba Software, a Silicon Valley software company, that require the CFOs to repay Saba more than $500,000 in bonuses and profits from stock sales earned subsequent to Saba’s false filings. Notably, the SEC did not allege that either former officer violated the federal securities laws in any fashion, nor was there evidence of either officer’s knowledge of, or complicity in, the underlying conduct that prompted the company to settle accounting fraud charges lodged against it by the SEC in September 2014. See Press Release, SEC Announces Half-Million Dollar Clawback from CFOs of Silicon Valley Company that Committed Accounting Fraud (Feb. 10, 2015).
The first CFO, William Slater, a former accountant who served as CFO from November 2011 through February 2013, and the second, Peter E. Williams … 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 »
Recent Charges Against China-Based Companies Demonstrate SEC’s Efforts to Bring More Financial Fraud Cases
SEC Chair Mary Jo White and Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney have repeatedly said that financial fraud would be a priority of the SEC’s enforcement program. Two recent cases involving companies with China-based operations may signal a new trend in this area.
On March 11, 2014, the SEC charged animal feed company AgFeed Industries Inc. in a massive accounting fraud scheme. According to the SEC, four company officials–executive chairman Songyan Li, CEO Junhong Xiong, CFO Selina Jin, and controller Shaobo Ouyang–engaged in several tactics to artificially inflate revenue, including creating fake invoices for sales that did not occur and misrepresenting the weight of hogs which resulted in falsely amplified revenues. The SEC alleged that to perpetuate the scheme, the executives kept two sets of company books–an “outside” set that the company provided to its auditors and an “inside” real set that contained … Read More »