When a spouse owns a business, it can create some of the most complicated financial issues in a divorce. It is extremely important to dive into the financial records of the business in order to value it and to determine where the money is REALLY going. Tracy Coenen and Miles Mason discuss what documents a forensic accountant needs to evaluate the business.
Defendants in criminal cases such as tax fraud, money laundering, or embezzlement often need forensic accountants to help evaluate complex financial situations. Should you provide expert witness services to criminal defendants? Tracy discusses the work and some of the issues that should be considered.
There is little doubt that litigation can be stressful for clients and attorneys alike. With filings, briefs, and deadlines, the litigator has little time to worry about whether her or his expert witness is getting the job done. The attorney usually has one shot for the expert to get the case right. If the expert witness fails, it can have wide-reaching implications for the entire case.
Experts aren’t perfect. Mistakes can be made and deadlines can be missed. Pertinent documentation can be overlooked, and erroneous conclusions can be drawn. These can be fatal errors for the litigator.
Managing the expert witness is a critical part of litigation. It becomes even more important when the attorney is working with a less experienced expert or one with which she or he hasn’t worked previously.
Proper management of the expert witness process will help ensure that the attorney receives relevant, accurate, and reliable results from the expert.
Several years ago, I got called for jury duty. Unlike almost everyone else who complains when called for jury duty, I was thrilled. I wanted to be on a jury.
If I was going to have to do my civic duty, I wanted to get something out of it, rather than just sit in the jury pool room all week. After spending time testifying as an expert witness in front of juries, I would now have a chance to be the jury and get a real-life look at what happens in the jury room.
My wish was granted and I was seated on a jury for a misdemeanor criminal case that lasted about a day, then came the moment of truth. The jurors sat down in the jury room and looked at each other. It was clear that at least 10 of the 12 had no idea what was supposed to happen next.
I appointed myself foreperson and began leading the discussion. The facts of the case were pretty clear. The evidence was somewhat limited, and the case really came down to the testimony of the defendant and one witness. The defendant had almost no credibility.
Tracy Coenen discusses testifying as an expert witness at trial.
While waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom to testify as an expert witness, I thought of all the ways my testimony could go wrong. I had hours to contemplate opposing counsel’s questions for me. It was my first time testifying, and I didn’t want to blow it. But I relaxed as I eased into the witness chair and stole a glance at the jury. They were ordinary people who were just hoping to understand my calculations. I led them simply through the financial matters. From the looks on their faces, I think they understood.
In my testimony, I closely followed the main points of my prepared report. The counsel who had hired me showed large exhibits from my report, which illustrated my points. We easily walked the jury (and the judge) through the numbers. Opposing counsel tried but failed to confuse the jury members. I knew I had hit a home run when I saw the foreman nodding each time I made a point. His new understanding of the issues would prove invaluable during jury deliberations.
Competent and convincing expert witnesses are a vital part of cases involving economic damages and other financial calculations. Traditional accounting, financial and fraud examination skills just aren’t enough when it comes to litigation. A financial expert witness must be able to qualify as an expert in court and then effectively communicate in a written report and oral testimony to an opposing lawyer, a judge, and a jury who probably aren’t accountants or fraud examiners.
FOCUS – Newsletter of the AICPA Forensic & Valuation Services Section
Forensic accounting and fraud investigation are hot specialties in the accounting world. Experts agree that the need for fraud detection services is growing, creating opportunities for small and midsized firms that are looking to start or expand a forensic accounting practice. Building a stable forensic accounting practice takes time because the services and clients are unique. The key to becoming a real competitor in the area of fraud investigation to focus your firm’s strengths on the right quality services and clients to enhance your brand.
Forensic services are usually divided into two subsets: fraud investigation (financial statement fraud, corporate embezzlement, bribery, and insurance fraud) and litigation support services (contract disputes between corporations, shareholder divorces, intellectual property infringement, business insurance claims, bankruptcy consulting, business valuation, and family law issues). Within both service areas exists a variety of potential clients, including attorneys, corporations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals. Those clients can be divided further according to the industries in which they specialize or the types of matters in which they’re involved.
Ask a random group of attorneys what they think of social media, and you’ll get some funny looks. Several of them will turn up their noses, while an equal number will have only a vague idea of what you’re talking about. Although more attorneys are participating in social media, there is still a good bit of reluctance to get involved.
The phenomenon called social media is simply a category of online resources used by people to communicate with one another, research topics of interest, stay on top of current events, and market their businesses. It includes blogs, which may be used by professionals to write about news affecting their industries, promote their businesses and expertise, and engage in dialogue with others in far away places.
Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are considered to be more pure social media than blogs. A blog can be created and maintained without interaction with other people, if that’s what the writer chooses. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites require interaction with others to make them worthwhile. On these sites, you will “connect” with people you know or are interested in, and you’ll be able to see updates they post about themselves and their companies, articles they’ve written, and articles they find interesting. You will be able to “like” or comment on their updates, and often engaging discussions follow.
What is at the heart of almost every securities case, whether the case is pursued by the government or a private party? It is a trail of money. The difficulty in prosecuting or defending a securities case is the fact that there is voluminous financial data that must be culled, analyzed, and presented in a way that proves the case.
For the last three decades, securities and financial fraud cases have been evaluated by forensic accountants using manual processes. The financial investigators compared accounting data with source documents, ultimately trying to prove the source and use of funds.
This is complicated, especially in large cases (which are the ones the government most often cares about), because there can be a multitude of involved people, entities, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts. The process of understanding and organizing the flow of funds is complex, and it can take months or even years before plaintiffs or defendants know exactly what happened to the money.
Cutting-Edge Forensic Accounting
The world of forensic accounting is moving in a new direction, however. Fraud investigators are slowly beginning to use technology to analyze large volumes of financial data much faster, more efficiently, and more accurately than they have been able to do using traditional investigative techniques. The shift has been moving at a snail’s pace, however, but this provides significant opportunities for parties to litigation who are willing to embrace change and harness the power of cutting-edge technology.
Take a look at the frauds in the news, and most of them are huge. Huge frauds make huge news.
As investors and the general public demand more transparency from companies and executives, the issue of fraud is being talked about more than ever. Everywhere we turn, the word fraud is rearing its ugly head.
While fraud is a good thing if you make a living as a fraud investigator, it’s not so good for business and profits. The impact goes beyond dollars and cents, as fraud can negatively affect employee morale, employee work ethic, investor confidence, and customer loyalty.
The sad truth is that almost all frauds started small. They had to start somewhere before they grew to those headline-grabbing proportions. Think about Enron, everyone’s favorite example when discussing corporate fraud.