Marked by leadership changes, high-profile trials, and shifting priorities, 2013 was a turning point for the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”). While the results of these management and programmatic changes will continue to play out over the next year and beyond, one notable early observation is that we expect an increasingly aggressive enforcement program.
Posts Tagged ‘SEC enforcement’
On January 24, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an order instituting settled administrative and cease-and-desist proceedings against KPMG LLP (“KPMG”) for violating auditor independence rules in its relationships with affiliates of three of its SEC-registered audit clients.  At the crux of the SEC’s order are its findings that:
- KPMG provided prohibited non-audit services to affiliates of its audit clients;
- KPMG hired a former employee of an affiliate of one of KPMG’s audit clients and subsequently loaned him back to the affiliate to do the same work he had done as an employee of the affiliate;
- Certain KPMG employees owned stock in KPMG’s audit clients or affiliates of its audit clients; and
- KPMG repeatedly represented in its audit reports that it was “independent.”
KPMG settled the charges for approximately $8.2 million.
“One of our goals is to see that the SEC’s enforcement program is—and is perceived to be—everywhere, pursuing all types of violations of our federal securities laws, big and small.”
— Mary Jo White, Chair of the SEC, October 9, 2013
“In the end, our view is that we will not know whether there has been an overall reduction in accounting fraud until we devote the resources to find out, which is what we are doing.”
— Andrew Ceresney, Co-Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, September 19, 2013
“The SEC is ‘Bringin’ Sexy Back’ to Accounting Investigations”
— New York Times, June 3, 2013
Much has changed since the collapse of Enron in 2001 and the ensuing avalanche of financial fraud cases brought by the SEC. For example, Sarbanes-Oxley raised auditing standards, imposed certification requirements on public company officers and required enhanced internal controls for public companies. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) was formed “to oversee the audits of public companies in order to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit
reports.”  In pursuit of that goal, the PCAOB has conducted hundreds of audit firm inspections, adopted numerous auditing standards and brought dozens of enforcement actions against auditors for violating PCAOB rules and auditing standards.
In our paper, Executives’ ‘Off-the-Job’ Behavior, Corporate Culture, and Financial Reporting Risk, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine how and why two aspects of top executives’ behavior outside the workplace, as measured by their legal infractions and ownership of luxury goods, are related to the likelihood of future misstated financial statements, including fraud and unintentional material reporting errors. We investigate two potential channels through which executives’ outside behavior is linked to the probability of future misstatements: (1) the executive’s propensity to misreport (hereafter “propensity channel”); and (2) changes in corporate culture (hereafter “culture channel”).
For nearly 80 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been playing a vital role in the economic strength of our nation. Year after year, the agency has steadfastly sought to protect investors, make it possible for companies of all sizes to raise the funds needed to grow, and to ensure that our markets are operating fairly and efficiently.
That is our three-part mission.
But, while commitment to this mission has remained constant and strong over the years, the world in which we operate continuously changes, sometimes dramatically.
When the Commission’s formative statutes were drafted, no one was prepared for today’s market technology or the sheer speed at which trades are now executed. No one dreamed of the complex financial products that are traded today. And, not even science fiction writers would have bet that individuals would so soon communicate instantaneously in so many different ways.
“This Order contains no findings that an officer, director or employee of Alcoa knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme.”
There are several notable aspects of aluminum producer Alcoa, Inc.’s (“Alcoa”) recent FCPA settlement. The $384 million in penalties, forfeitures and disgorgement qualify as the fifth largest FCPA case to date. Further, it is remarkable that such a large monetary sanction was imposed when the criminal charges brought by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office against the consultant central to the alleged bribery scheme were dismissed on the grounds that there was no “realistic prospect of conviction.” Perhaps most striking, however, is the theory of parent corporate liability that the settlement reflects. Although there is no allegation that an Alcoa official participated in, or knew of, the improper payments made by its subsidiaries, the government held the parent corporation liable for FCPA anti-bribery violations under purported “agency” principles. Alcoa serves as an important marker in what appears to be a steady progression toward a strict liability FCPA regime.
Investors, borrowers, financial institutions, and the economy were not the only casualties of the financial crisis. Regulators were casualties too, and the SEC was one of the hardest hit. Two Harris Polls—one conducted in 2007 before the financial crisis and the other in 2009 after much of the damage had been done—tell the story. Between 2007 and 2009, favorable ratings of the SEC dropped from 71% to 29%, while the percentage of the public rating it fair or poor rose from 25% to 72%. “By a wide margin,” the Harris organization stated, “[this was] the biggest change in an agency’s ratings since these questions were first asked in 2000.” Indeed, the SEC’s 29% positive rating was a full 15 points worse than even the second-lowest rated agency in the survey. Congress attacked the Commission as well, as when Long Island Representative Gary Ackerman burst out in a hearing, “Whose job is it to protect the investors? Because I wanna tell them that they suck at it.” And the press was also merciless, as when reporter Charlie Gasparino urged, “the SEC should be disbanded.”
Last year, in our annual survey (discussed on the Forum here) of the white collar and regulatory enforcement landscape, we noted that the trend toward ever more aggressive prosecutions reflected a “gloomy picture” for large companies facing such investigations. Our assessment remains the same, as the pattern of imposing massive fines and extracting huge financial settlements from companies continued unabated in 2013. For example, on November 17, 2013, DOJ announced that it had reached a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan to resolve claims arising out of the marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities—the largest settlement with a single entity in American history. Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil investigations into off-label drug marketing and the payment of kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists. Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $1.9 billion to settle claims by the Federal Housing Finance Agency that it made misleading disclosures about mortgage-backed securities sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. SAC Capital entered a guilty plea to insider trading charges and was subjected to a $1.8 billion financial penalty—the largest insider trading penalty in history. And in the fourth largest FCPA case ever, French oil company Total S.A. agreed to pay $398 million in penalties and disgorgement for bribing an Iranian official. Not to be outdone, the SEC announced that it had recovered a record $3.4 billion in monetary sanctions in the 2013 fiscal year.
On July 2, 2013, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) announced two new initiatives aimed at preventing and detecting improper or fraudulent financial reporting.  We previously noted that one of these initiatives, a computer-based tool called the Accounting Quality Model (AQM, or “Robocop”),  is designed to enable real-time analytical review of financial reports filed with the SEC in order to help identify questionable accounting practices.
It is a great honor to have been asked to give the Fifth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture. And it is especially meaningful to be joined tonight by Tom Flannery’s daughter Irene, son Tom, and so many friends, colleagues, and former law clerks who knew and served with him.
I unfortunately did not have the privilege of knowing and working with Judge Flannery. But one of the great benefits of being asked to speak tonight is that it gave me the opportunity to come to know him a little—through learning about his many impressive career accomplishments and through reading his own words and those of others about him. I wish I had known him. He was indeed a remarkable man, lawyer, and judge.
As all here know, Judge Flannery was a highly-respected Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney, trial lawyer, and jurist on this court for over 35 years. In fact, he spent most of his life within a few miles of this courtroom.
As part of the Historical Society’s Oral History Project for this Circuit, Judge Flannery gave an interview in 1992. It is a fascinating account of his professional life and the life of this court. Judge Flannery said that his view of the justice system was shaped in great part by watching police court trials here in Washington as a law student.