Auditor Malpractice: How to Sue an Audit Firm and Win

Last week, Reuters printed an interesting and enlightening interview with Steven Thomas, the managing partner of Thomas, Alexander & Forrester … an attorney known for suing large auditing firms for malpractice… and winning!

Recent big wins include $520 million and $130 million judgments against BDP Seidman, on behalf of Espirito Santo and Batchelor Foundation, respectively. Auditors Ernst & Young (E&Y) and KPMG have been on the losing sides of large cases, and Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, and McGladrey & Pullen are all current defendants.

So how does Thomas (or any plaintiff’s attorney) win a case against an auditing firm when there is a sizeable fraud (such as the Koss Corp. embezzlement) or the collapse of a Ponzi scheme (such as the Bernie Madoff case)?

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Financial Statement Fraud: Olympus Makes It Look Easy

What is a company to do when it wants to hide losses? Manipulation of the financial statements is the obvious first choice. It’s not hard. Sure companies have “internal controls,” which are supposed to include policies and procedures which ensure that financial information is properly recorded. But companies of all sizes have problems with their internal controls, such that it’s not terribly difficult to issue fraudulent financial statements.

Michael Woodford was dismissed in October as CEO of Olympus, and subsequently disclosed that he was fired because he raised questions about some acquisitions by the company. He alleges that Olympus paid incredibly high prices for companies it acquired, and also paid huge “advisory fees” to agents who supposedly represented Olympus in the transactions. The purpose behind these transactions? To cover up investment losses that were decades old without drawing any attention to the issue.

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Groupon: Restated Numbers Reveal Failure of Business

In July, critics attacked Groupon (GRPN) and it use of a made-up accounting measure management called Adjusted CSOI. I suggested that the company made up the measure to exclude many of the company’s expenses to make the company look more successful.

There was more to the story, however, as the Grumpy Old Accountants revealed Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) violations in reporting revenue. Essentially, Groupon was recording more than twice the amount of revenue it should have been reporting under GAAP. The Grumpies explained:

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Lehman collapse looming in June: When did auditors know?

The current issue of New York Magazine has a lengthy story about the collapse of Lehman Brothers. To cut to the chase: Management knew in June that the company was in serious, serious trouble. Which leads me to ask when their auditors knew?

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Fox Guarding the Henhouse: Big 4 Auditors Chosen to Oversee Bailout Bill

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) and Ernst & Young (E&Y) have been chosen by the United States Treasury to help oversee the $700 billion bailout plan. reports:

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Ernst & Young Indictment Unsealed

Last week, the U.S. Atorney’s office unsealed an indictment of Ernst & Young tax partners. The indictment alleges that Robert Coplan, Martin Nissenbaum, Richard Shapiro, and Brian Vaughn created and marketed tax shelters which were fraudulent, for use by individuals with taxable income in excess of $10 or $20 million. The tax shelters were created … Read more Ernst & Young Indictment Unsealed