Monthly Archives: October 2015

New Standards in the PCAOB

Posted by Kimberly Culcay.

In the article, “What the PCAOB’s new related-party standard means for auditors,” Maria L. Murphy captures the new standard put in place by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). The new standard will require auditors to perform specific procedures that are intended to strengthen auditor performance in high-risk areas, such as significant unusual transactions and financial relationships, and transactions with executive officers. The reason behind the new standard is that in the areas of accounting mentioned above there was a lack of guidance on how to report or treat certain transactions.

The Auditing Standard (AS) No. 18 requires auditors to understand the relationships and transactions with related party transactions as if they were someone working in the company. The auditors must also understand and document the process of understanding the relationships and transactions of the company just as the internal controls of the company itself. The auditors not only have to record how they gained understanding of the relationships and transactions but the auditors must properly account for the transactions, perform procedures to test that the company’s related parties and transactions with those parties have been completely and accurately identified, accounted for, and disclosed. Before this standard, there was a vague and unstructured way of handling related party transactions. Related party transactions are a way that a company can commit fraud by transferring property to a related party thereby creating a conflict of interest. In the article, it also states that the AU Section 316, Consideration of Fraud in a Financial Statement Audit, was amended to require specific procedures to identify and evaluate significant unusual transactions. The main point of amending the standards is for the professional auditors to be able to identify procedures quickly if a situation of fraud exists.

I think amending the standards of accounting to include specific procedures to prevent fraud from happening rather than a professional figuring out what to do if fraud is already done is way more useful. I also think that with the incentive to have these procedures in place, it eliminates some of the gray area of accounting. The need for Forensic Accountants has increased ever since the recession in 2008, with all of the fraud that was done due to the lack of strict standards and procedures to be able to detect fraud early. I am currently a graduate student at Montclair State University; I have been striving to complete my combined program in Accounting BS/MS with a Certificate in Forensic Accounting. Personally, I find that in the emerging economy people have learned from the mistakes made in the past with the scandals, fraud and so on. I think it is important to be a Forensic Accountant in order to apply sophisticated set skills in other aspects of accounting and litigation. I think that if you already know how to be an accountant and with some background knowledge on Forensics, then it could be easier to detect some of the common problems that lead to fraud.

Kimberly is an accounting major with a certification in forensic accounting at Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University.

Reference:  Murphy, Maria L. “What the PCAOB’s New Related-party Standard Means for Auditors.” Journal of Accountancy. 22 July 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <http://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2014/jul/201410433.html >.

The Chairman’s Flight

Posted by Mario Damasceno.

In mid-February of 2015, federal prosecutors investigated United Airlines and its close relation with then chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, David Samson. The investigation arose shortly after Samson’s resignation, resulting from emails released that showed aids to Governor Chris Christie had intentionally organized lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. This is particularly significant because during his time in office, Samson would spend his weekends in Aiken, SC, which was located 50 miles from the Columbia, South Carolina airport, however, United never initially offered that route from its New Jersey hub.

The New Jersey paper known as the Record reported, “Federal aviation records show that during the 19 months United offered the non-stop service, the 50-seat planes that flew the route were, on average, only about half full,” and “was reportedly money-losing,” (The Economist). This, in turn, lead to the route being named, “The Chairman’s Flight.” The route itself “left United Airlines’ Newark hub each Thursday night bound for Columbia, S.C. On Monday mornings, United Express flew back to Newark,” (Bloomberg Business). Furthermore, federal prosecutors argued that, not by coincidence, “United cancelled the flight on April 1st, 2014—just three days after Mr. Samson resigned from the Port Authority” (The Economist).

The entire situation is worth looking into, and in fact, the Port Authority along with United Airlines have been issued subpoenas examining the communication between David Samson and the airline. Mary Schiavo, a former federal prosecutor and Department of Transportation inspector general stated, “If United realized they were offering this flight to curry favor with a public official, then United’s in the soup—it’s a bribe,” (Bloomberg).

Mario is a management major at the Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University, Class of 2019.

 

Bachman, Justin. “Did United Put a Whole Route in the Sky for One Very Important Passenger?” Bloomberg Business. N.p., 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-25/did-united-put-a-whole-route-in-the-sky-for-one-very-important-passenger->.

Gulliver. “The Chairman’s Flight.” The Economist. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2015/02/united-airlines>.

“United Airlines: The Chairman’s Flight.” Reinventing the Company 12 Sept. 2015: n. pag. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21664209-how-new-jersey-traffic-jam-helped-topple-head-airline-chairmans-flight>.

Legal Cases Involving Forensic Accountants

Posted by Kimberly Culcay.

In the article, “What Types of Legal Cases Require a Forensic Accountant,” Henry Rinder describes what a forensic accountant really is and the need for such a professional. The article discusses that there is a difference between a traditional accountant and a forensic accountant. A forensic accountant combines accounting knowledge and legal expertise to help their clients, from individuals to small and large businesses. The forensic accountant is a person that exhibits a curiosity that allows him or her to figure out if a company is hiding something. Some of the legal cases that require forensic accounting are criminal investigations, fraud, shareholder disputes, and divorce. For example, it is common in divorce cases for one party to hide assets to prevent splitting up everything they have.

In criminal investigations forensic accountants help find key elements to help law enforcement officers investigate crimes. Forensic accountants have some duties when being involved in criminal investigations, such as analyzing personal and business documents, tracing and recovering hidden assets, and tracking and reconstructing transactions and wire transfers. From the information provided above, it is easy to see that the need for forensic accountants in the field is growing rapidly. Fraud is something a traditional accountant may stumble upon in their career, but a forensic accountant is a person whose job is to detect it. As stated in the article, some of the duties forensic accountants have when helping with fraud investigations are detecting employee theft and fraud, investigating embezzlement, looking for inconsistencies in financial filings, assessing financial losses, and assisting with insurance claims and restitution orders or agreements.

Fraud falls under the investigative side of a forensic accounting because in a sense the accountant is acting as a detective. The other side of a forensic accountant is they can testify as an expert in court. Personally, I never expected for a forensic accountant to be involved in divorce cases, however if makes sense that a forensic accountant will usually assist in dividing assets and other valuables owned by one or both spouses during the marriage. Asset tracing is a key way for a forensic accountant to detect if someone has tried to conceal assets. Amongst others, some of the duties forensic accountants have helping with divorce cases are evaluating a spouse’s personal and business statements, tracing assets, debts, income, determining the value of concealed assets, ensuring equitable distribution and helping with divorce negotiations. Overall, the forensic accountant is there to help a spouse so that he or she has an opportunity for a fair and equitable distribution of the assets.

I think that with the evidence presented in this article it is evident that there is a need for forensic accountants in legal cases when it relates to finances. Forensic accounting is interesting to me because I always wanted to be a detective, but I knew that the job market was not going to consistent.  Therefore, it is exciting to find out that forensic accountants can serve the public in this way.

Kimberly is a graduate forensic accounting student at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University.

Reference: Rinder, Henry. “What Types of Legal Cases Require a Forensic Accountant.” Smolin Lupin. 7 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. <http://www.smolin.com/forensic-accountant/ >.

Dewey & LeBoeuf’s Fraud

Posted by Bridget Uribe.

During the month of March of 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged three executives: Chairman Steven Davis, Executive Director Stephen DiCarmine, and Chief Financial Officer Joel Sanders of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the international law firm, with facilitating a $150 million fraudulent bond offerings. The SEC alleged that the three charged turned to accounting fraud when the firm needed money during the economic recession and steep costs from a recent merger.  They were afraid that their declining revenues might cause the bank lenders to cut off access to the firm’s credit lines. Thus, leading Dewey & LeBoeuf’s financial professionals came up with ways to artificially inflate income and distort financial performance.

The fraud didn’t stop there. Dewey & LeBoeuf then resorted to the bond markets to raise significant amounts of cash through a private offering that seized on fake financial numbers. Dewey & LeBoeuf since have officially went out of business, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged criminal charges against Davis, DiCarmine, and Sanders. According to the SEC’s complaint, the roots of the fraud dated back to late 2008 when senior financial officers began to come up with fake revenues by manipulating various entries in Dewey & LeBoeuf’s internal accounting system. The firm’s profitability was inflated by approximately $36 million (15%) at the end of the 2008 financial results. “The improper accounting also reversed millions of dollars of uncollectible disbursements, mischaracterized millions of dollars of credit card debt owed by the firm as bogus disbursements owed by clients, and inaccurately accounted for significant lease obligations held by the firm”(SEC Press Release).

Fast forward to the present, a New York judge declared a mistrial Monday bringing an end to the trial for the biggest law firm failure in U.S. history! The decision comes on the 22nd day of deliberations by a 12-member jury, which acquitted the ex-law firm leaders on several dozen counts of falsifying business records. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on grand larceny and remained deadlocked on more than 90 counts charges facing Steven Davis, Joel Sanders, and Stephen DiCarmine. The three could have faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted of grand larceny, the most serious of the roughly 50 counts each brought against them. The defendants also faced related civil charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a private lawsuit brought by former Dewey investors who say, “They were duped into buying debt in a 2010 bond offering.” Both of those proceedings had been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal trial. Some highlights of the trial are: prosecutors had likened Mr. Davis to a drug kingpin, overseeing a criminal enterprise. Also, the defense side thought prosecutors didn’t present enough evidence to prove their case, thus choosing not to call any witnesses. Instead, the lawyers relied on the cross-examination of government witnesses to try to distance their clients from the actions taking place in the accounting department. At times, such questioning also prompted praise for the defendants from those on the stand. Where does this lead us now? How the Department of Justice completely lost the case or can a retrial give a favorable outcome in the future? It’s too early to tell, but what I do know is that the long deliberations and mistrial will raise questions about whether the case was too complex.

Bridget is a graduate forensic accounting student at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University, Class of 2016.

Toshiba’s Accounting Scandal

Posted by Bridget Uribe.

During the summer of 2015, one of the world’s most known Japanese companies broke headlines as a top accounting scandal. Investigators found the company was overstating operating profits by at least 151.8 billion yen ($1.2 billion in U.S. dollars) between the years of 2008 and 2014. Their accounting problems primarily began from company employees understating costs on long-term projects, according to an investigation by a former top prosecutor in Japan.

The investigation also cited issues with improperly valued inventory also as the cause for the enormous overstatement of operating profits. Details of the scandal emerged when an independent investigative panel released a report describing, “Toshiba CEOs put intense pressure on subordinates to meet sales targets after the 2008 global recession.” The investigative report revealed that the CEOs did not directly instruct anyone to cook the books but rather placed immense pressure on subordinates and waited for the corporate culture to turn out the results they wanted. The investigative panel also pointed out that the weak corporate governance and a poorly functioning system of internal controls at every level of the Toshiba conglomerate didn’t mitigate or stop the inappropriate behaviors. Internal controls in the finance division, the corporate auditing division, the risk management division, and in the securities disclosure committee were not functioning properly. The accounting misconduct began under CEO Atsutoshi Nishida in 2008 due to the global financial crisis that immensely lowered Toshiba’s profitability. It continued unabated under the next CEO, Norio Sasaki, and eventually ended in scandal under Tanaka. Toshiba CEO Hisao Tanaka announced his resignation, in light of the scandal.

It has been four months since the scandal broke headlines and much new information has come to light. Since then, Toshiba has amended and restated those losses as to being more than $1.9 billion. As a consequence of the scandal, the Tokyo Stock Exchange has already designated Toshiba’s shares as “securities on alert” and fined the company $760,000 for “undermining the confidence of shareholders and investors.” In addition, Toshiba also faces the possibility of lawsuits from angry shareholders in Japan who have seen the company’s share price tumble.

Such action is already being taken in the United States, where an investor has filed a class-action lawsuit against Toshiba in June. The Rosen Law Firm representing the plaintiff has called for other Toshiba shareholders to join the suit. Despite the consequences Toshiba is facing, the one burning question has yet to be solved. Who did this? How did all this came about? How could their fraud be maintained for so long, and who should take direct responsibility?

Bridget is a graduate forensic accounting student at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University, Class of 2016.

IRS Fraud Scam Bilks People For More Than $23 Million

Online fraud is alive and well. About 4,550 people have been scammed by foreigners posing as IRS personnel and telling them they are about to be sued for unpaid taxes. The Treasury Inspector General, J. Russell George indicated they are working on bringing to justice the perpetrators of “‘the largest of its kind'” scam, yet taxpayers are urged to remain on “‘high alert.'”

According to George, a scammer will call an unsuspecting individual, claiming to be from the IRS. The “scammer tells the person that they have unpaid taxes and threatens him or her with a criminal violation, immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license unless they settle the fees via a debit card or a wire transfer.” People have a hard time telling whether the call is legitimate because the scammers either use a robocall machine that leaves a message stating it is the IRS and they are being sued, or callers giving the last four digits of the victim’s social security number, or fake emails appearing to come from the IRS.

One of the ringleaders officials caught, Sahil Patel, is serving a 14 year sentence in federal prison for organizing call centers based in India, as part of the U.S. side of the scam.

Tax Avoidance, Tax Fraud, and Tax Evasion

Posted by Issam Abualnadi.

Tax is a sum of money levied on incomes, property, sales, etc., by a government for its support or for specific services. (The American Heritage Dictionary). According to the IRS website, the origin of the income tax on individuals is generally cited as the passage of the 16th Amendment, passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913; however, history, it actually goes back even further. During the Civil, War Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which included a tax on personal incomes to help pay war expenses. The tax was repealed ten years later. In 1894, however, Congress enacted a flat rate Federal income tax, which was ruled unconstitutional the following year by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held it was a direct tax not apportioned according to the population of each state.

The 16th amendment, ratified in 1913, removed this objection by allowing the Federal government to tax the income of individuals without regard to the population of each State. (IRS Website). The sole purpose of income tax is based economics and social goals.( Income Tax Fundamentals 1-2). While the government tries to maximize its revenue, at the same time, Congress tries to make the tax law suitable and fair for each individual. Therefore, the tax law not only divides the taxpayers into categories upon their income, but also it allows them to minimize their taxes due by structuring their tax return in different methods. Unfortunately, not every citizen is law-abiding in this respect, and accordingly, some taxpayers break the tax law. In the foregoing, I will discuss the differences between tax avoidance, tax fraud, and tax evasion.    Avoidance of tax is not a criminal offense. According to the IRS, taxpayers have the right to reduce, avoid, or minimize their taxes by legitimate means. One who avoids tax does not conceal or misrepresent, but shapes and preplans events to reduce or eliminate tax liability within the parameters of the law. Take for example, Warren Buffett. Buffett wrote in The New York Times in 2011 “ Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent” ( The New York Times). But how Buffett can do that?

Buffett and many other super rich people use different tax rules to avoid paying taxes, like the “cash-rich split-off.” This code mechanism is used when Company (A) puts cash or other “investment assets” plus a business into a subsidiary that it then swaps tax-free to Company (B) in return for B’s holding of A’s stock. In 2010 Graham Holdings and Berkshire (Warren Buffett’s corporation), saved a total of about $675 million in federal and state income taxes by going the “cash-rich split-off” route. Graham Holdings is trading cash, Berkshire stock that it owns, and a TV station for most of Berkshire’s 23 percent stake in Graham Holdings. Tax avoidance matches the well-known saying, “Work smarter not harder.” Also, it is worth mentioning that massive tax avoidance draws attention to the notion of the efficiency of the tax codes, and the need to produce new rules or restrictions prevent such legal tax evasion. (The New York Times).

Tax fraud is another way some taxpayers use to minimize their tax liability. According to the IRS website, tax fraud “is deception by misrepresentation of material facts, or silence when good faith requires expression, which results in material damage to one who relies on it and has the right to rely on it. Simply stated, it is obtaining something of value from someone else through deceit.” (IRS Section 25.1.1.2). According to IRS’s definition of tax fraud, not all the mistakes in preparing a tax return are considered a fraud, and in order to consider a case as a fraud, two elements should be presented:

  1. An additional tax due and owing as the result of a deliberate intent to evade tax; or

  2. The willful and material submission of false statements or false documents in connection with an application and/or return. (IRS Section 25.1.1.1). Generally the expression “Tax Fraud” used for civil and criminal cases.

The third area is tax evasion. Tax evasion, “Involves some affirmative act to evade or defeat a tax, or payment of tax. Examples of affirmative acts are deceit, subterfuge, camouflage, concealment, attempts to color or obscure events, or make things seem other than they are” (IRS Section 25.1.1.2.4). “It is typically used in the criminal context, and it is a subset of the tax fraud.”

Tax fraud and tax evasion are very close in their meaning; both are illegal way to reduce the tax liability. The IRS indicates tax fraud by two major indicators. The first indicator is when the taxpayer knowingly understates their tax liability often leaving evidence in the form of identifying earmarks. The second indicator is that serve as a sign or symptom, or signify that actions may have been done for the purpose of deceit, concealment or to make things seem other than what they are. Usually the IRS cannot prove that to court, because taxpayer can easily claim a good faith misunderstanding of the law or good faith belief that one is not violating the law negating willfulness. Therefore, the IRS chooses to prosecute the taxpayer civilly for underpaying taxes. In such cases, the IRS can impose a tax fraud penalty, which is 75% of the tax owed plus the interest on this penalty. On the other hand, tax evasion is a subset of tax fraud. In tax evasion cases, the very difficult burden for the IRS is to prove the willfulness, which means a voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty. (IRS, Section 25.1.1.1) To prove fraud, they must show the court that the taxpayer did the act deliberately for the purpose of deceit. Examples include omissions of specific items where similar items are included; concealment of bank accounts or other assets. (ISR Section 25.1.1.3). So if the IRS can prove that, then it is a tax evasion case. In tax evasion cases, the penalty range is up to five years in jail plus a big fine and plus the costs of prosecution for each separate tax crime.

In conclusion, the tax law was created to enable the government to support the economical and social activities in the American society. The lawmaker enacted some tax codes to help eligible taxpayers reduce their tax liability under exact conditions, but some still try to deceive the government by using illegal means.

Issam is an accounting major at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University, Class of 2017.

Works Cited

“Sixteenth Amendment.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group 17 Nov. 2014. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sixteenth+Amendment

tax.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2003. Houghton Mifflin Company 23 Nov. 2014 http://www.thefreedictionary.com/tax

“Brief History of IRS.” Brief History of IRS. Web. 10 Oct. 2014. .

Whittenburg, Gerald E., and Ray Whittington. “The Individual Income Tax Return.” Income Tax Fundamentals. 2014 ed. St. Paul: Cengage Learning, 2014. 1-2. Print.

“Internal Revenue Manual – 25.1.1 Overview/Definitions.” Internal Revenue Manual – 25.1.1 Overview/Definitions. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. .

BUFFETT, WARREN. “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.” The New York Times 14 Aug. 2011. Web.

 

NJ Supreme Court Overrules Itself on Warrantless Car Searches

In class, we discuss the Fourth Amendment as it pertains to a variety of searches and seizures by government actors. Even though the New Jersey analog is practically identical to the federal Fourth Amendment, the New Jersey Supreme Court has interpreted more protections for privacy than the United States Supreme Court has under the federal amendment.

In a recent case, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned a prior 2009 decision requiring police officers conducting an automobile search to have probable cause and exigent circumstances, such as time constraints and safety concerns, and obtain a warrant from a judge prior to the search. The court held  officers now merely have to have probable cause to conduct the search–a retreat to the federal standard.

From time to time, courts will break with stare decisis when circumstances permit. The decision in this case, however, drew criticism from two of the Justices and the defense bar. Justice LaVecchia wrote in her dissent, “‘One can only wonder why the State and the majority of this Court find it appropriate to turn from the progressive approach historically taken in this State to privacy and constitutional rights of motorists.'”

But the court held the old standard was “unworkable.” Police were required to get a telephonic warrant in these circumstances; yet, many of them resorted to merely getting the owner of the vehicle to sign a “consent form” for the search instead of calling a judge.

Justice Barry T. Albin, writing for the majority held the standard applied in the 2009 decision “does not provide greater liberty or security to New Jersey’s citizens and has placed on law enforcement unrealistic and impracticable burdens.” The court found that the 2009 standard had the “unintended consequence” of causing an “‘exponential increase in police-induced consent automobile searches,'” suggesting officers may be pressuring drivers to volunteer for searches instead of taking the time to obtain a warrant.

“‘The heavy reliance on consent searches is of great concern given the historical abuses associated with such searches and the potential for future abuses,'” Justice Albin wrote.