Remember the fiasco in Bell, California? Mayer Hoffman McCann performed an audit of the city except it turned out that they didn't really perform an audit and it was later discovered that some of the city's leaders were making off with some money. The California State Board of Accountancy called MHM's audits "little more than a […]
More news from Down Under, as KPMG tries to ward off the litigious spirits related to Leighton Holdings, an international contractor who caught a few people off guard by springing bad news related to some of their projects. Maurice Blackburn, an Aussie law firm, is suing Leighton and their beef is that Leighton didn't disclose […]
As has been reported, MF Global may have done some commingling of client money with its own which is a big no-no. This means the Feds are now on the case, which means typically cool-as-a-
cumcumber cucumber Jon Corzine could be sweating a bit. MF Global’s auditor, PwC, on the other hand, has it made in the shade (at least somewhat). Why? How? Alison Frankel over at Reuters tells us:
[E]ven if it turns out that MF Global was illicitly dipping into customer accounts, if that commingling of funds helped keep the business afloat, PwC is protected by in pari delicto.
If you’ve never heard of in pari delicto, that’s the obscure doctrine that says a bankruptcy trustee that’s representing the corporation can’t go after another party for stunts pulled by said corporation. In other words, if MF Global commingled funds, if (probably more like “when”) the trustee attempts to recover funds from PwC, the firm will be protected. Francine McKenna has been writing about in pari delicto since early 2010 saying that it’s “like a pair of needle nosed pliers by audit firm defense lawyers to diffuse a bomb” and last year’s ruling for KPMG in Kirschner v. KPMG and the favorable ruling for PwC in Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP reaffirmed that sentiment. PwC probably isn’t sweating this.
But what about PwC’s audit opinion on MF’s financial statements? The Grumpies pondered the idea of what might constitute grounds for P. Dubs to issue a going concern opinion for MFG:
Might that include four years (2008-2011) of massive losses, as occurred at MF Global? Might that include severely negative free cash flows for three of the last four years? Might that include an exposure to European sovereign debt that will lead to greater future losses? Might that include several downgrades in the credit ratings?
Say you’ve got a broker-dealer client that has no European sovereign debt exposure and isn’t covered by a ratings agency. You simply have massive losses for four straight years and negative free cash flow for three out of the last four and few signs that things are turning around. Do you think there’s any doubt about this business’s ability to continue as a going concern? What about substantial doubt? Throw in the Eurotrash debt and junky bond ratings again and where do you stand now? Yikes.
But PwC was cool with it. We probably know the why (money and client retention, natch). But how? Love to hear some opinions on that. No matter the answer, our lawyer friends will do well by it all.
As you may have heard, MF Global Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this morning. You may have also heard that for some strange reason, MF owes CNBC about $845k and change. Turns out, that is more money than it owes to PwC ($312,598), Alvarez & Marsal Tax Advisory Services ($65,000), The Siegfried Group ($30,000) and KPMG ($10,000) combined.
The bright side for P. Dubs is that they got most of the $12 million that they charged the company with last year. Of course if the shareholders take this bankruptcy as well as Lehman’s have (not to mention the NYAG and the State of New Jersey), then that really doesn’t serve as much consolation.
Allegedly! Admittedly, we’re a little behind on this one but you know how it is. Anyway, your Ponzi scheme du jour comes by way of the great Northwest, where Frederick Darren Berg, who seems to have some sort of charter bus fetish, is being prosecuted for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in Washington.
When he was at the University of Oregon in the 80s, Berg allegedly helped himself to his fraternity’s cash to fund a “charter bus venture” and then pleaded guilty to a check-kiting scheme with another bus company a few years later. After those nickel and dime failures, Fred was done messing and decided to really do this:
The 48-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Meridian Group is accused of defrauding hundreds of more than $100 million invested in his Seattle company’s mortgage funds between 2003 and 2010.
Prosecutors allege Berg spent tens of millions on a ritzy lifestyle, including a posh Mercer Island mansion, two yachts and two jets.
But investigators say Berg diverted a bigger chunk, estimated at $45 million, to create a luxury bus line that served tour groups and sports teams, including the Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks.
And we all know what happened to mortgage funds, don’t we? Okay, then. So your next question probably is, “how did the auditors miss this one?” Well!
Berg used some simple stratagems to mislead auditors at Moss Adams, a large Seattle-based firm, which produced audits for a trio of Meridian funds for three years.
The standard procedure is to send out confirmation letters to a random sample of mortgage borrowers and compare what they say they’ve paid with what the lender’s records say.
But Moss Adams didn’t notice most of the confirmations it sent out were going to post-office boxes and coming back with the same handwriting, said [bankruptcy trustee Mark] Calvert.
Berg had rented more than 20 P.O. boxes and had the mail forwarded to another address in Seattle. He was replying to the auditors’ queries himself, according to the indictment.
[Cringe] Oops. To be fair, auditors can’t be expected to be hand-writing experts…can they? Mr. Calvert seems to think so and told the Seattle Times that he plans on suing Moss Adams and Deloitte for their roles. Oh, right! How do they fit in? To wit:
Berg also hired Deloitte Financial Advisory Services to do a “valuation report” on funds V through VII, meant just for Meridian management. Meridian, however, used it to reassure investors, touting Deloitte’s conclusion “the sample mortgage pool appears to be of higher quality and better performance” than comparable loan portfolios.
But Calvert said Deloitte’s supposedly random sampling “was not completed as outlined” in its agreement with Meridian. He declined to be more specific.
Moss Adams and Deloitte would not comment on their work for Meridian.
It’s probably safe to say that billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman doesn’t get poor service very often. As the founder of Omega Advisors and #655 by Forbes‘ last count, the man has arguably earned the right to demand only the best, especially when it comes to something as important as tax services.
How that Cooperman is just the latest billionaire to have tax issues (McCombs, Anschutz have had troubles recently) that might cause a less prudent mega-rich person to flip their lid (e.g. Ted Turner, Steve Jobs).
Cooperman recently received a letter from the IRS informing him that despite the generous gift of $43 million to his own foundation, the contribution could not be allowed because the donation was a non-marketable security made to a private foundation, which is not allowed by the IRS. Had he made the donation to say, NORML (he looks like he could get behind it, couldn’t he?), or some other public charity everything would have been hunky-dory.
Unfortunately for Mr Cooperman, this isn’t the case and the IRS sent him a bill for $14 million in back taxes and $5 million in penalties. Understandably, this aggression will not stand and the “plain-speaking” Coop has taken the case to court to insist that he relied on his accountants to get this shit right. It’s complicated, after all. It’s not about the money, it’s the principle. Coop would gladly schlep in suitcases of consecutively numbered hundos to settle this here and now but the penalties are uncalled for and he’s bound and determined to prove that. But who actually is to blame?
The lawsuit says Cooperman’s two personal returns claiming the deductions were prepared by his longtime accountant, Mark I. Gittelman, a CPA with Gittelman & Co., Clifton, N.J. The formal appraisals to support the claimed deductions were done by RSM Business Services and Duff & Phelps, Cooperman’s suit adds.
McGladrey does tax work for other Cooperman entities, including his hedge fund, Omega Advisors. Cooperman told Forbes that McGladrey knew he was planning to donate a nonmarketable security to his private foundation and take a deduction when the firm rendered its appraisal for a fee that Cooperman said was about $20,000.
Again, the money isn’t important but for crissakes, McGladrey, you just don’t half-ass your work for Leon Cooperman. Forbes was all over this issue back in ’04. Where were you in 2004? Stumping for John Kerry?
Of course we all know where this is eventually going – litigation! When rich people get wronged, someone inevitably pays and it sounds like LC is happy to sit tight and let the tax court do its thing. Once that’s resolved, he’ll turn his sights towards the responsible parties:
Cooperman clearly is thinking about malpractice litigation. He acknowledged McGladrey is likely to assert it didn’t prepare or sign the tax returns with the disallowed deductions, although the firm’s formal appraisal was attached.
Best of luck to everyone involved!