SEC’s Failure in the Madoff case prompts lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

January 8, 2010

CREW, since 2003, has closely monitored government ethics, bringing egregious conduct to light and holding public officials accountable for their misconduct.  This statement is made according to their website.

On January 6th, 2010 – some three months after they requested information from the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) CREW filed a lawsuit against the SEC, challenging the SEC’s failure to produce records in response to CREW’s October 6, 2009 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to reforms the SEC has taken in the wake of its failure to detect Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Although the agency received numerous complaints and tips about Mr. Madoff’s activities over a 16-year period, and conducted five major investigations and examinations of Mr. Madoff, the SEC still failed to detect his colossal fraud. In January 2009, the SEC began implementing what it described as “decisive and comprehensive steps” to reduce the chance similar frauds will occur in the future or remain undetected by law enforcement, and an extensive Inspector General report outlining the SEC’s multiple failures suggested 58 more reforms in September. The records CREW seeks will help the public understand the extent to which the SEC has implemented meaningful and necessary reforms.

As a business ethics speaker, and one who is constantly asked about the Madoff scandal, especially how the SEC completely missed this massive fraud conducted right under their nose, I was poised to applaud CREW’s effort in this matter.  It is becoming clear that what is stated is often nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Then I became confused.  Is CREW after headlines or did they just miss the obvious?  The SEC’s website (see here) states what actions they have taken as a result of the Madoff scandal.  The bullets points are stated below:

Somehow, as I type this, I am sure that someone can provide clarification, but why is a lawsuit necessary when the SEC has published what they are doing following Madoff?

Now if CREW is asking for more specifics than what the SEC has published…then I get it.  But for now, I wonder where the Washington ethics breech is when the SEC has publically stated their intent and actions?

COMMENTS WELCOME


David G. Friehling, CPA for Bernie Madoff Investment Securities Charged with Fraud! And The Dominios Begin To Fall…

March 19, 2009

With a $65 Billion Ponzi scheme in play and Bernie Madoff electing to plead guilty, it is no great surprise that others will being to fall as the government widens the responsibility net for the largest Ponzi scheme in US history.

I must admit this hits home and was something I expected.  Although I wish I could say something different, I, too, was a CPA, created a Ponzi scheme and spent time in Federal prison.  It is no fun.  And, without a doubt, Friehling will spend time there himself – although my guess – his sentence will much longer than mine.

Yesterday, David G. Friehling, CPA (licensed in the State of New York) was charged with securities fraud, aiding and abetting investment adviser fraud, and 19madoff190 four counts of filing false audit reports with theExchange Commission (“SEC”).   Friehling is the sole practitioner at Friehling & Horowitz, CPAs, P.C. in New York.  As a point of reference, Friehling was the son-in-law of Jerome Horowitz (his former accounting partner) who didn’t live to see it all unravel.  He dided on March 12, the day Madoff plead guilty.

According to a news release issued by the US Attorney’s office:

From 1991 through 2008, F&H was the accounting firm retained by BLMIS (Bernie L. Madoff Investment Securities) purportedly to audit BLMIS’s financial statements. FRIEHLING created BLMIS’s certified and purportedly audited financial statements, including balance sheets, statements of income, statements of cash flows, and reports on internal control. FRIEHLING falsely certified that he had prepared such statements in accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (“GAAS”) and in conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”). Those financial  statements were filed with the SEC and sent to clients of BLMIS.   BLMIS paid FRIEHLING approximately $12,000 to $14,500 per month for his services between 2004 and 2007.

Sorry, but before going any further, one must question the payment.  $14,500 a month is a small price to pay for disgusing a fraud considering that Friehling will be facing certain loss of his license and a lot of time in Federal Prison.  But, there is more…  the news release goes on to say:

FRIEHLING failed to conduct audits that complied with GAAS and GAAP by, among other things, failing to: (a) conduct independent verification of BLMIS assets; (b) review material sources of BLMIS revenue, including commissions; (c) examine a bank account through which billions of dollars of BLMIS client funds flowed; (d) verify liabilities related to BLMIS client accounts; or (e) verify the purchase and custody of securities by BLMIS. FRIEHLING also failed to test internal controls as required under GAAP and GAAS standards. For example, FRIEHLING did not take any steps to test internal controls over areas such as BLMIS’s redemption of client funds, the payment of invoices for corporate expenses, or the purchase of securities by BLMIS on behalf of its clients. Further, commencing at least as far back as 1995, FRIEHLING did not maintain professional independence from his audit client, BLMIS.   Specifically, FRIEHLING and/or his wife had an account at BLMIS with a year-end net equity of more than $500,000 — the maximum amount that, under SEC rules, he could have invested with a broker-dealer client and still maintain his independence.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Friehling similarly did not conduct any audit procedures with respect to BMIS internal controls, and had no basis to represent that BMIS had no material inadequacies. Afraid that his work for BMIS would be subject to peer review, as required of accountants who conduct audits, Friehling lied to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for years and denied that he conducted any audit work.

Articles in Forbes stated the following:

“Friehling essentially sold his license to Madoff for more than 17 years while Madoff’s Ponzi scheme went undetected,” said James Clarkson, acting director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “For all those years, Friehling deceived investors and regulators by declaring that Madoff’s enterprise had a clean audit record.”

Madoff has said his business didn’t become a Ponzi scheme until the early 1990s, around the time that Horowitz retired and Friehling took over. He was not accused of wrongdoing in the court complaint.

Numerous reports claim that Friehling and family had $14 million invested with Madoff two months before his confession to the largest financial fraud in US history.  Since 2000, Friehling withdrew about $5.5 million from those accounts, the SEC stated.

WHERE FROM HERE?

Bernie Madoff, while perhaps brilliant (in his own way) is not capable – in my opinion – of pulling off a fraud of this magnitude without help.  I am not suggesting that Friehling knew about the Ponzi scheme (he says he didn’t), but it is likely that he’ll be found guilty on most of the charges as there is no doubt that he’s (at a minimum) negligent.  Selling his license for money seems very clear.

But, from these headlines, I suspect there will be a demand for more “accountability” for audited financial statements and regulations placed on compliant CPA’s.  That is not the answer.  I have stated before and will again, you cannot legislate or regulate ethics or morality.  If a person elects to be dishonest…they will be dishonest regardless of the rules in place.

Friehling was a puppet for Bernard Madoff.  Most people (although most will deny it) have a price.  It appears that Friehling’s price wasn’t all that much.  Comfortable yes – rich no!  And knowing that his reputation is ruined, his license all but gone and many many years in prison facing him, I know that Friehling wishes he’d never met Bernie Madoff.  Hind sight is 20/20 and there is no doubt with all that is facing this CPA – Friehling is just beginning to face the consequences of his choices.

Every choice has a consequence!

My prediction – Friehling isn’t the only pawn is this massive fraud to fall.  There will be others so stay tuned…

FRIEHLING, 49, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 105 years in prison.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME!

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Bernie Madoff in Jail! It’s Not “Club Fed” I Know – I’ve Been There…

March 12, 2009

madoff-cp-6397978There was cheering from the crowd when Madoff was immediately taken to jail.  Emotions are running high and will do so for years to come.   But this is not a joyous day.  Many victims lives have been radically transformed by the financial crime Madoff effected.  Likewise, Madoff’s life as he knew it is over.  Leaving the comfort of normal life to go to prison is a radically different experience as well.

I know – regretably I have been there for exactly the same crime Madoff plead guilty to today.

Every choice has a consequence.  Many were victimized by Madoff et al and both the victims and Madoff, himself, are facing the consequences of choices made.

Madoff made the following comments in court today.

“I operated a Ponzi scheme.  I thought it would end quickly, but it proved impossible.  I am ashamed for these criminal acts. I always knew madoff_sketch_09031203this day would come.”

I was asked today on CBS radio – KRLD – by Ernie and Jay about the mentality of how something like this could happen.  Is it possible that Madoff just was out to steal from folks?  The answer is simply – NO.

While I don’t personally know Bernie Madoff, I know the thought process that ends in federal prison.  Madoff is a smart man.  In fact, I would say that he was brilliant in his ability to effect such a scheme successfully for so long.  That is rather amazing.  But, for a time, I suspect when he first got started, Madoff was legitimate.

To effect a fraud like this, there must be three components: (1) need; (2) opportunity and (3) rationalization.  My best guess is that Madoff had two needs that came together when he began this in the early 90’s – (a) emotional need – he would not admit that he was faliable; and (b) money – in that he likely lost money and was unwilling to admit that fact.  Hence, he entered into the second  part of creating such a fraud – he took advantage of his name and notariety to gain more money – more investors or more victims.

CNN reported: Madoff admitted that he never invested his clients’ money, and that he deposited the funds into a “Chase Manhattan” bank.

At that point, Madoff crossed the line of investing and became an outright fraud.  Amazingly, instead of continuing to invest clients money hoping for the big win, Madoff just deposited the money in the bank.  Of all revelations, that was the most amazing.  Effectively he just gave up, committed the crime and waiting until the house of cards fell.

TONIGHT FOR MADOFF:

As I type this I can speak first hand from experience, Madoff just entered a phase of life that is totally foreign and for which he is unprepared.  Likely, as he was removed from the court room, he went to processing where he removed his clothing and was issued prison issue clothing.  It is doubtful that he was madoff_jail_cell03allowed to keep much other than one set of “street” clothes that might be used for limited visiting privileges or meetings with legal counsel, etc.  He would have likely been handed his bed linens and escourted to his holding cell.   Unless because of his age he was assigned a lower bunk, he would be given the upper bunk as those with more time in the facility get the privilege of lower.  His meals would be a step above a Swanson’s TV dinner – maybe – and the routine is strict.

Counted multiple times per day, Madoff will soon find that he’s no more than anyone else incarcerated, an inmate.  Inmates will likely acknowledge him, but not consider him any more than they.  In fact, it is likely that many will avoid him fearing that what they might say to him will be used against them (they fear he’d become a snitch) in order to gain favor with the judge for a lighter sentence.

Tonight will be one of the longest nights of Madoff’s life.  He will wonder to himself – time and time again – what he has done and why.  Those thoughts will haunt him for the rest of his life, which from a free man’s perspective, has ended.

THE VICTIMS:

Now here’s where I should stop, but for whatever reason, I can’t.  I understand the anger, and desire for revenge that many feel.  It is natural as your trust has been violated.  This is no different than feeling that one has when a marriage ends with the distrust created by adultery.

Many would say that I am the least to offer advice.  Perhaps that is true, but I’m going to try.  First, from a practical perspective seek the legal help you need to recover what you can.  Know that there are possible sources for some recovery including the application of IRC Section 165(c)(2).  I am not an expert in that area, but I have a guest blog from someone who is.  Go there it might be helpful.

Beyond the legal recourse against Madoff and those involved – and I suspect that others will fall from this as well, may I say – with respect – put your loss into perspective.  We come into this world with nothing and leave that way as well.  Money – security – certainly are important, but it is afterall only material.  The longer one harbors anger or hate, the worse life becomes.  Finding the ability to recognize that Madoff will suffer and reap the consequences of his choices is significant.

Your life has changed – so has his.  No one walks away from this feeling good or whole.  The ultimate outcome, however, for you and your well being will, in large part, be a function of your ability to forgive.

IN THE LONG RUN:

Having been there, I know the pain of prison.  Some learn from their experience and others never get it.  In Madoff’s case we may never know what the true effect of his life changing experience will bring.  In my case, prison was life changing.  While I am thrilled with freedom, I understand that my time there changed my life and gave me an opportuity to do something positive today that, in fact, helps others.

Sometimes you can actually get lemonade from lemons!

As always – COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.

HERE is what Madoff read to the court.


Bernie Madoff Will Plead Guilty! Fraud Prevention Expert Chuck Gallagher Speaks Out

March 9, 2009

In what will likely become the biggest investment fraud in US history, Bernie Madoff is set to enter a plea of guilty at a US District Court in Manhattan on Thursday.    According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marc Litt and Lisa Baroni a plea hearing is scheduled for March 12, 2009. artmadoff

According to a CNN report:

Madoff’s attorneys Ira Sorkin and Daniel Horowitz confirmed to CNN that Madoff is waiving his right to a grand jury indictment and that there have been ongoing negotiations regarding a possible settlement.

“We obviously have talked to the government,” said Horowitz. “And we have been professional with each other.” The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had no comment.

Frankly, it would make sense that Madoff would enter a plea.  Anything beyond that would likely result in a sentence or punishment that would be less favorable to Madoff.  Let me, however, say, I don’t think the punishment will be anything to laugh at.  Madoff’s alleged crime is substantial enough that it will earn him many years in federal prison.  Based on his age, I have stated on more than one ocassion that Madoff may never see freedom again.  But, that is just speculation.

PERSPECTIVE:

As many of my readers know, I have been through what Madoff is facing now.  Here’s a reality check – if you fight the federal government, you will likely end up with a substantially longer sentence.  The government (for the most part) will do whatever is necessary to gain a “win”!  The governments role is not to make the victims whole or even to discover who or how many people have been victimized.  The role of the government is to bring those who break the law to justice.  And the easier you make it for them to “win” the more likely one is to receive a moderate to light sentence.

Now, having said that, I also know that there are victims who get angry when they discover that the government doesn’t really care about their loss or their plight.  If a victim can help the government win, then the government is interested.  But, when the US Attorney has sufficient evidence to win or gets an admission of guilt on a plea agreement (which is exactly what Madoff – through his attorneys – will enter on Thursday) they are done.  The rest of victims claim will come in other legal suits that will be brought against a multitude of organizations.

In Madoff’s case – gaining a guilty plea should be easy since Madoff basically admitted guilty publically.  CNN reported:

It was “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme,” Madoff said, according to the government’s criminal complaint. “There is no innocent explanation,” Madoff told two FBI agents, according to the complaint, which states Madoff expected to go to jail.

With a statement like that – it’s an easy win for the goverment.  The issue in the plea agreement is not guilt, but what Madoff will plead guilty to and what sentence has basically been agreed to in advance.  The government will get it’s win, but will the sentence be sufficient to satisfy the victims?  By the way, starting at 10:00 a.m. victims will have a chance to be heard by the judge.  Not that it matters all that much as I would guess that it’s pretty well decided.

REALITY CHECK:

Having been through it, (wish I could say other wise) the process will likely be fairly straight forward.  Madoff pleads guilty to “securities fraud”.  The judge hears from the victims.  The judge accepts Madoff’s guilty plea.

WHAT’S NEXT:

Hum…now that’s a good question.  Thus far Madoff has been under – shall we call it – “house arrest.”  Whether he’ll be allowed to continue that form of confinement or whether the judge will require him remanded to some form of federal prison awaiting sentencing remains to be seen.  Certainly this is public outcry for Madoff to be imprisoned.

There is little chance that Madoff will be sentenced on Thursday.  If this hearing is true to form, it will only be an admission of guilty.  Once entered and accepted, Madoff will have more time to wait until his sentencing hearning.  In my case I had to wait almost six months before being sentenced and then another four months before being required to report to federal prison.

I doubt it will take that long for Madoff, but it will likely take time.

According to the New York Times:

If Mr. Madoff does plead guilty on Thursday, it could nevertheless be several months before he is sentenced, several former prosecutors said. The single count of securities fraud that he faces now carries a prison term of up to 20 years.

The one thing I do find interesting in this case if that the government is only seeking an admission of guilt on ONE count of securities fraud.  With so many victims, it would seem that the government could easily win multiple admissions of guilt on items other than just ONE count of securities fraud.  It makes one wonder if the government isn’t being cooperative due to the backlash that could come if Madoff exposed the incompetence of the SEC?

Just a thought!

QUESTION:

1.  Assuming Madoff Pleads guilty – how much time do you feel he should serve for his crime?

2.  Should Madoff’s sentence be reduced if he helps locate available funds to help with restitution?

3.  Should charitable organizations get preferential treatment when it comes to restitution?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!