Financial statement fraud includes intentional, material misrepresentations. Tracy Coenen explains the concept of financial statement fraud to a group.
In a video released this week, Pershing Square (the hedge fund that exposed the Herbalife fraud) contrasts Herbalife’s public statements about the “business opportunity” with the statements made behind closed doors.
Herbalife claims to offer “the best business opportunity on the face of the earth.” But the reality is that it is an opportunity in which you are almost guaranteed to fail, with 96% of distributors making less than half of what is earned by employees making minimum wage (per the video). Despite Herbalife executives and high level distributors publicly repeating how lots of money can be made, the numbers really look like this (according to the video):
Multi-level marketing companies that advertise shakes and potions designed to help you lose weight and get healthier are generally all guilty of the same offense: Distributors making false health claims. The products are generally terrible for losing weight and maintaining the weight loss. And the health benefits are nothing more than one could get from eating well and taking a simple multivitamin.
Nonetheless, people involved in MLMs routinely claim these potions cure things like ADHD, arthritis, high cholesterol, lupus, asthma, migraines, cancer, fibromyalgia, and more. The most disturbing part of this is when the distributors encourage people to stop taking medications that are critical to their health. This advice is simply dangerous.
Today Bill Ackman released a video demonstrating that Herbalife distributors are violating U.S. law by making false and deceptive claims about the Herbalife products. How do they get away with this? The company likely would contend that there is nothing illegal about distributors giving personal testimonials about the results they received from the products. Good luck with that defense.
Tracy Coenen gives a brief overview of some of the most common financial statement fraud schemes.
Tracy Coenen teaches a group about some of the most common red flags of financial statement fraud. More information on corporate fraud is available in Tracy’s book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
I have researched multi-level marketing companies for nearly a decade. During that time, I came to the conclusion that the vast majority of participants fail. What does that mean? 99% or more lose money. Since the participants are largely getting in because of the “business opportunity” to “earn unlimited income” and find “financial freedom,” failing to turn a profit is indeed a failure.
A few weeks ago, a wonderful article on Herbalife was published on Seeking Alpha. It started out by discussing hedge fund manager John Hempton’s blind (and incorrect) defense of the Herbalife business model. In essence, he claims that since meal replacement shakes are sold, this is a legitimate business opportunity.
This is the defense that every MLM company uses. “We have a product. People buy it. Therefore we are not a pyramid scheme.”
It has been almost four years since the massive fraud committed by Sujata Sachdeva against her employer, Koss Corp., was uncovered. A year after the discovery, Koss sued Park Bank for failing to find the fraud. The company says that Park Bank should have known that a fraud was occurring when Koss employees with proper authority withdrew funds from the Koss bank account and had Park Bank make out cashier’s checks with the funds. Koss says that Park Bank should have realized that the endorsements on the cashiers checks did not match the payees. (For example, a cashier’s check made out to N.M. was endorsed by Nieman Marcus.)
If you know anything about fraud, you know how absurd these claims are. It is the company’s responsibility to prevent and detect fraud. This is not the first time that the company made silly claims against parties it was suing in order avoid taking responsibility for Michael Koss’s own mismanagement of the company. Mind you, the company was sanctioned for its own part in the fraud, including lack of oversight, inadequate accounting controls, failure to reconcile accounts, and failure of Michael Koss to review figures before certifying the financial statements.
Today Citron Research released a report on the fraud being committed in China by Nu Skin Enterprises. NuSkin is a multi-level marketing company based in Utah, and it trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol NUS. This report is a follow-up to an August 2012 report in which Citron revealed its basis for alleging that Nu Skin was perpetrating fraud in China.
Citron first points out how dependent on China Nu Skin is. In the second quarter of 2012, revenues from China were $57 million. In the second quarter of 2013, Nu Skin’s China revenue grew to $197 million. That’s a 245% increase. Without the China revenue, NuSkin’s year-over-year growth would be negative.
An expose was published in China on NuSkin. A translation of the page can be found here. The article accuses Nu Skin of running a pyramid scheme, using endless chain recruitment to bring new marks into the fraudulent business opportunity. Distributors are encouraged to buy inventory in quantities they will never sell, all to move up in the pyramid and qualify for commissions. (Incidentally, this is the same way that Mary Kay Cosmetics has been successful.)
Almost four years ago, I wrote an article for AOL’s Daily Finance site about the Securities and Exchange Commission witch hunt against Mark Cuban.
The SEC filed insider trading charges against him in 2008 after he sold 600,000 shares of stock in Mamma.com. They said that he was insider trading because he sold his shares after receiving information that there was going to be another offering of stock by the company.
Mark Cuban didn’t ask for the information on the stock offering. It was provided to him because the company wanted him to invest more money. He didn’t want the information, and he knew that it would devalue the stock he already held. So Cuban declined and sold his stock. The stock then dropped in value, and in ran the SEC.
On September 18, 2013 a cease and desist order was filed pursuant to the Security and Exchange Commission’s investigation of Medifast Inc. (Medifast’s business includes Take Shape for Life, or TSFL, which is its multi-level marketing division.) Medifast materially overstated income and understated expenses from 2006 through 2009, according to the SEC. This has resulted in the cease and desist order, and has Medifast paying a $200,000 penalty to the government.
You may recall that Medifast sued several people (including me) in 2010 for criticizing their business model and business practices.
One of the issues in the lawsuit was the criticism of Medifast’s auditors, Bagell, Josephs, Levine, and Company.The criticism of the auditors was grounded in a 2008 PCAOB report on an inspection of six of BJL’s audits, which turned up audit deficiencies in three of them. In 2010 Medifast switched auditors.