My comments in Financial Executives Magazine


I was recently interviewed for an article in Financial Executive Magazine. The article contained comments from a variety of executives, educators and consultants. We were asked to speculate on the future of financial reporting and the finance function in corporations.

Naturally, my comments pertained to fraud and how that may impact the finance function.

Tracy L. Coenen, a principal in Sequence Inc. in Milwaukee, has spent the 10 past years in forensic accounting. A CPA and certified fraud examiner, she has a somewhat jaundiced view of companies’ current and prospective anti-fraud efforts. “Until companies admit that fraud may have an impact on them, that won’t change,” she says. “A common estimate is that fraud represents 5 percent of revenues each year . and a lot of companies don’t think that’s material to them.”

Coenen agrees that “some of the better companies” have used Sarbanes-Oxley compliance to fix some of their internal controls. But, in an ominous thought for the future, she adds, “Some simply did the documentation they were required to do; they didn’t use to effort to improve the [financial reporting] process.”

But Coenen doesn’t think the answer is future regulation, and doesn’t favor “a lot of legislation; I’d rather see companies be proactive about it.” She believes that companies “could do a lot more to act on risk; they are not taking preventive measures. They don’t make it a top priority. Companies think their controls are better than they really are.”

What Does the Future Hold For Finance and CFOs?


Financial Executive Magazine
By Jeffrey Marshall and Ellen M. Heffes

The editors reached out to a wide range of experts — CFOs and former CFOs, consultants, academics, accountants and technology vendors — to get their thoughts about what the coming years could bring for financial executives.

If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s’ cartoon, The Jetsons, you’ll recall a very different vision of the “future” than the one we’re living in now. The Jetsons had a robot to do housework, and traveled in a kind of mini-pod vehicle that was attached to something like a monorail. Appliances made their everyday lives largely work-free.

The point here is that speculation about the future, however well-informed, can’t accurately predict how quickly we;ll get there. As much as the world of business and finance has changed in the past 75 years, it probably hasn’t altered as much as some might have forecast. And some of the eternal truths about finance keep getting repeated, implying that change is more gradual than it might appear. Continue reading

Scam Busting: The Real Deal With Amway


I’ve had the pleasure to come into contact recently with Eric Scheibeler, a former “independent business owner” for Amway. He did well by all public accounts, rising quickly up the ranks with his wife. I’ve been reading his book, Merchants of Deception, which details his rise and fall in Amway.

The story is disturbing in so many ways. Here is a page from Eric’s website, reprinted because I think it’s really interesting to see this overview of what multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses are really like. Continue reading

Siemens criminal investigation heats up


German investigators who are looking into fraud allegations at Siemens AG are having some success. They’ve said they discoverd .200 million (about $250 million) in suspicious transactions. This is significantly more than discovered just a week ago.

Six former employees of Siemens have been jailed while the investigation is ongoing. Investigators allege that the participants in the fraud scheme had secret bank accounts in other countries in which to hide the proceeds of their fraud.

Another tax increase for Wisconsin?


Yet another tax increase is being discussed in Wisconsin, a state already known for its extremely high tax burden. Naturally, lawmakers are spinning this tax increase as a tax shift, rather than an increase. Suuuuuuuure.

Here’s the idea: State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) wants to do away with sales tax exemptions. What? Currently most goods require sales tax to be paid, however necessities like groceries are exempt from the sales tax. Also exempt are many services like accounting and legal services.

Erpenbach wants to cancel those exemptions and force service providers to charge customers sales tax. He says that the services currently exempt from sales tax are about $700 million per year.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Erpenbach says that charging this sales tax will allow the state to remove $3 billion in property taxes used for school funding. Does anyone really believe that property taxes will be lowered because of the new sales taxes? I sure don’t.

Erpenbach even goes so far as to claim that his tax increase will result in the following: “Most everybody, at the end of the day, will have more money in their pocket.”

When has a tax increase ever put more money in people’s pockets? Count on this new tax to drive even more business away from our state. When will lawmakers wake up?

Sick Days That Aren’t Really Sick Days


How does that work?

Give lawmakers a bunch of sick days, and when they’re sick, they just don’t show up. They don’t ever “use up” any of the sick days. They keep accumulating into infinity.

How cool is that?

Apparently really cool for Wisconsin lawmakers. When they retire, they can use their accumulated sick leave toward their health insurance premiums. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that if all the state’s lawmakers retired now, they’d have about $3.2 million in health insurance funded because of this plan.

Commuter Rail For Milwaukee?


Commuter rail between Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha is being discussed again. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it will cost $237 million to start. The plan proposes 14 round trips on weekdays and 7 on weekends and holidays. The fares would be around $10 one way, and buses and shuttles would theoretically take riders from the train stips to jobs and other locations.

Statistics on the proposed rail include: Continue reading

Press Release: Fraud Investigator and Former Mary Kay Salesperson Joins Pyramid Scheme Alert Board of Advisors


Milwaukee, WI November 22, 2006 . Pyramid Scheme Alert announces that Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE has been named to the organization.s Board of Advisors. Her consumer education website,, which exposes and analyzes the business and recruiting practices of Mary Kay and the plight of Mary Kay salespeople, has received over 4,000 visitors a day.

Pyramid Scheme Alert is one of the most widely recognized and highly respected organizations fighting against pyramid schemes and abusive multi-level marketing companies. The organization is led by Robert FitzPatrick, author of the book False Profits: Seeking Financial and Spiritual Deliverance in Multi-Level Marketing and Pyramid Schemes. Continue reading

Press Release: Fraud Investigator Develops Public Awareness Website Regarding Mary Kay Cosmetics


Milwaukee, WI November 20 2006 . Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE, a nationally-recognized fraud examiner and expert witness, has developed a website to educate and inform the public about the Mary Kay Cosmetics business opportunity. Pink Truth ( has quickly become a valued resource to hundreds of thousands of women around the world.

Coenen, a highly credentialed and experienced fraud investigator, is utilizing her expertise on fraud to reach out to current and former independent representatives of Mary Kay. Widely-available internet access has made information and opinions shared by these representatives available to women considering becoming independent beauty consultants.

As a former member of Mary Kay.s independent sales force, Coenen has first-hand experience with the abuses that occur in multi-level marketing companies like Mary Kay. Typical abuses in MLM companies can include incomplete information given during the recruiting process, unsubstantiated earnings claims, and pushing large quantities of inventory on new recruits.

.The site is aimed at putting information in the hands of those who need it most: those who are considering signing up and those who are struggling with their Mary Kay businesses,. said Coenen. .This is a rapidly growing public awareness campaign to give women access to potentially negative information about the Mary Kay business opportunity. Women deserve to know the truth about their chances of success, the typical earnings of a beauty consultant, and the realities related to recruiting new members..

As the visibility of the site expands, Mary Kay.s corporate executives have taken note, even advising high-level members of the independent sales force to discourage members of their downlines from visiting the website. Coenen has received hundreds of emails thanking her for the positive impact the website has had, and she intends to continue providing information about the Mary Kay opportunity so that women around the world can make well-informed decisions.

About Pink Truth:

The site was launched in July of 2006 and moved to its current internet address in October. Pink Truth is owned and maintained by Tracy Coenen, a forensic accountant with Sequence Inc. in Milwaukee and Chicago. Coenen performs financial investigations related to corporate fraud and embezzlement, financial statement fraud, contract disputes, and insurance fraud.

For more information about Pink Truth, please visit

MySpace is being sued by Universal


A lawsuit has been filed against News Corp., the owner of MySpace, by Universal Music Group. Universal, the world’s largest recorded music company,claims that MySpace is infringing on copyright by trafficking in “user-stolen” content such as music, videos, and written materials.

Universal is known for aggressively defending its copyrights. The company has been negotiating with MySpace to get MySpace to pay a licensing fee for the use of Universal’s content. Other companies pursued by Universal include YouTube Inc., Grouper Networks Inc. (part of Sony Corp.) and Bolt Inc.

Universal contentds that it adds millions of dollars of value for the owners of MySpace, and should be compensated accordingly.