Back in April, the DOJ and SEC passed on filing criminal charges against the man everyone perceived to be the cause of the financial apocalypse, Joe Cassano.
The Journal digs into a few of the details behind the failed pursuit of criminal charges against JC and we first learn that PwC’s audit team wasn’t rve when they were poking around AIGFP:
Auditors at PricewaterhouseCoopers, AIG’s accounting firm, felt Mr. Cassano was evasive when they asked questions as the housing market weakened that year, according to people familiar with the matter. Tim Ryan, a PwC auditor, was concerned about requests for collateral from Goldman Sachs, which had purchased AIG’s derivatives contracts. He believed the requests were an indication the value of the swaps needed to be lowered and that further collateral calls were likely, people familiar with the matter said.
In interviews in 2008, Mr. Ryan told prosecutors he sometimes couldn’t get straight answers from Mr. Cassano when he asked him to justify how AIG accounted for the swaps, these people said. Through a PwC spokeswoman, Mr. Ryan declined to comment.
Okay, so Cassano was a prickly guy. That’s no surprise, especially since the lion’s share of people that have to deal with auditors, dislike them based purely on spite. Regardless of that factoid, it irks auditors to no end when they have to deal with an uncooperative client.
Cassano’s attitude was noted by prosecutors and this led them to believe that maybe he was withholding information from PwC and the AIG brass about the shitstorm that was growing at AIGFP:
“Why would he do that?” said Jim Walden, one of Mr. Cassano’s attorneys. Mr. Cassano had no reason to hide key facts because he knew the year-end audit was approaching and the unit’s books would be examined.
“He was smart enough many times before” in surviving prior problems, Mr. Pelletier retorted. “He thought he could pull a rabbit out of the hat” and turn things around.
In meetings spanning several weeks in Washington, the defense team rebutted the prosecution’s allegations, presenting a version of events that portrayed Mr. Cassano as repeatedly disclosing bad news to his bosses, investors and PwC.
The defense team didn’t know it at the time, but its efforts helped focus prosecutors’ attention on an obscure set of handwritten notes in their files, found scrawled on the bottom of a printed spreadsheet.
Prosecutors had seen the annotations, which were made by a PwC partner at a meeting with Mr. Cassano and AIG management a week before the key December 2007 investor conference. But the strange hieroglyphs from the world of financial derivatives were hard to decipher and ambiguous enough to support several readings.
Some of the broken phrases that could be made out: “Cash/CDS spread differential,” “need to quantify” and “could be 10 points on $75 billion.”
At this point, prosecutors knew that the jig was up, regardless if started out as a good jig or not. As much as they wanted to pin the near death experience of the financial world on this one shifty (and easily unlikable) guy, they couldn’t. The fact that no one that was at the meeting in Dec. ’07 could remember anything, “According to people familiar with the matter, no one at the meeting—including the author of the handwritten notes—recalled Mr. Cassano disclosing the magnitude of the accounting adjustments he was preparing to make,” certainly didn’t help matters. Especially since, for all we know, the partners’s chicken scratch could have been a recipe for pineapple upside down cake.
And after failing to nail Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi back in November of ’09, the feds could hardly go to trial on such shaky ground. Sigh. OH well! Can’t always catch the (perceived) bad guys!
“I did not expect actual, economic losses on the portfolio. That said, I was truthful at all times about the unrealized accounting losses and did my very best to estimate them accurately, in consultation with others at AIG-FP, as well as with my supervisors, AIG’s senior accounting staff, and its internal and external auditors.”
~ Joe Cassano, in his prepared testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission
Crisis Probes Fail to Meet High Bar [WSJ]
Late on Friday, former AIG executive Joseph Cassano learned that he wouldn’t face criminal charges for his actions as the head of the company’s Financial Products division. According to the Journal, prosecutors did come close to filing criminal charges against Cassano and others but it was felt that the high burden of proof that “there was criminal intent behind executives’ decisions and that they intentionally misled investors” could not be met.
The government isn’t quite finished with Cassano, as he still may face civil charges from the SEC, which has a lower standard of proof.
The SEC’s Mary Schapiro on the Myths of GAAP/IFRS Convergence: The Lady Doth Protest Too Much [Re:Balance]
Jim Peterson took a closer look at Mary Schaprio’s speech at the annual conference of Chartered Financial Analysts where she mentioned IFRS but also convergence efforts between the IASB and the FASB. The SEC has maintained that convergence should be the initial goal for reporting standards.
Jim is concerned that the gap between the ultimate goal of convergence and the reality of some of the key issues at stake are no small feat:
There is, indeed, no more eloquent concession of the “convergence gap” than Schapiro’s own admission that “US GAAP and IFRS are currently not converged in a number of key areas,” including “the accounting for financial assets (the very types of securities at the center of the financial crisis), revenue recognition, consolidation principles, and leases.”
Any other problems, Madame Chairman? These on her list are so comprehensively grave that they will keep the international standards standoff alive until the end of time.
Which would put IFRS on a even longer track to adoption.
IRS audits of schools might delve into salaries of coaches [USAToday]
The IRS’ interest in the determination of the highest paid employees for colleges and universities has a few people worried. Not necessarily because anything is wrong but because the IRS is just a scary beast, “John D. Colombo, a University of Illinois law professor who has written about tax exemption and college athletics, says he doesn’t think the IRS action will fundamentally alter college athletics business. But he adds, ‘Audits are never comfortable. Just the IRS being there asking questions makes people nervous.'”
Primarily, the IRS is concerned over the business activities that higher education institutions engage in that aren’t “related to the schools’ primary purpose.” The interest in athletic coaches’ salaries is such that these individuals are often some of the highest paid employees of the school. The IRS is interested in how colleges and universities justify these salaries and to ensure that corporate sponsorships (not considered to be a business activity) are complying with certain rules so they are not considered advertising revenue.
• Accounting convergence threatened by EU drive [FT]
Somewhat of a bombshell was dropped over the weekend when an EU politician suggested that funding for the IASB could be subject to its willingness to buckle to political pressure, according to the Financial Times. Michel Barnier, the EU’s new internal market commissioner would like ‘issuers – more banks and more companies – and more prudential regulators represented on the governing board [of the IASB],’ and suggested that it was too early to determine if the IASB’s scant budget of $6.5 million would be increased.
The FT reports that the EU pols “believe prudential regulators should be morovernance so that accounting can be used as a tool for financial stability,” despite the feeling of other countries (e.g. U.S. and Japan) that accounting rules “should not be the subject of regulatory intervention but should focus on providing an accurate snapshot of a company’s value.”
This difference in opinion on what the purpose of accounting is could disrupt the convergence process which won’t do much to impress the G20 chaps who demanded some progress on the global accounting sitch.
• IRS Expansion [Factcheck.org via TaxProf Blog]
Those 16,500 new IRS agents you keep hearing about, or is 17,000? Whatever it is, Factcheck.org was posed the question about this small army of tax enforcers that will be marching into your home, heavily armed and stealing your freedom by forcing you to buy healthcare that you don’t want.
Are you prepared for this shock? Turns out, it’s not true:
This wildly inaccurate claim started as an inflated, partisan assertion that 16,500 new IRS employees might be required to administer the new law. That devolved quickly into a claim, made by some Republican lawmakers, that 16,500 IRS “agents” would be required. Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas even claimed in a televised interview that all 16,500 would be carrying guns. None of those claims is true.
The IRS’ main job under the new law isn’t to enforce penalties. Its first task is to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them — starting this year — which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution toward their workers’ health insurance. And in 2014 the IRS will also be administering additional subsidies — in the form of refundable tax credits — to help millions of low- and middle-income individuals buy health insurance.
Plus, Doug Shulman testified before the House Ways & Means Committee that the Service will not be auditing individuals, rather, “insurance companies will issue forms [some possibilities here] certifying that individuals have coverage that meets the federal mandate, similar to a form that lenders use to verify the amount of interest someone has paid on their home mortgage. ‘We expect to get a simple form, that we won’t look behind, that says this person has acceptable health coverage,’ Shulman said.” So maybe this is what Anthony Weiner was trying to explain to Bill O’Reilly?
• Federal Prosecutors Leaning Against Charges in AIG Probe [WSJ]
If you were thinking that it would only be a matter of time before Joe Cassano was charged with pushing the financial apocalypse button, you’re about to be severely disappointed. The Journal is reporting — citing “people familiar with the matter” eight times or so — that the former head of the AIG Financial Products unit is not likely to be charged by the Department of Justice for deceiving PricewaterhouseCoopers about AIG’s exposure to credit default swaps.
The DOJ was initially under the impression that Cassano had not informed PwC about an adjustment that AIG had made to make the losses from the CDS look just horrendous as opposed to catastrophic. When PwC came back with a material weakness on AIG’s internal controls, they abandoned the adjustment. The DOJ’s investigation turned up some notes of a PwC auditor that show that Cassano had told the firm about the adjustment thus, covering his ass. The Feds haven’t officially made up their minds about charging Cassano but this element was considered a “central issue.”