Tag: Corporate fraud


White Collar and Regulatory Enforcement: What to Expect In 2016

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum.

One way in which we expect the white-collar/regulatory enforcement regime in 2016 to continue last year’s pattern is that the government’s appetite for extracting enormous fines and penalties from settling companies will likely continue unabated. However, as we discuss below, the manner in which well-advised companies facing criminal or serious regulatory investigations will seek to mitigate such fines and sanctions will likely change in some important respects in 2016. The reason for this expected change is that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced late in 2015 that DOJ was formalizing a requirement that, in order to get “any” cooperation credit, companies must come forward with all available evidence identifying individuals responsible for the underlying misconduct subject to investigation.

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Calculating SEC Civil Money Penalties

Jonathan N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg.

In addition to going to court to seek sanctions, the Securities and Exchange Commission may impose civil money penalties in its own administrative proceedings on any person who violates or causes a violation of the securities laws. [1] Unlike district courts, administrative law judges do not have authority to base penalties on respondents’ pecuniary gains resulting from violations. [2] Instead, under the various penalty statutes, maximum penalties in administrative proceedings are based on “each act or omission” violating or causing a violation of the securities laws. Currently, the maximum penalties for each act or omission violating the securities laws are:
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Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing

Daniel P. Chung is of counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication authored by Mr. Chung, F. Joseph Warin, Charles J. Stevens, and Debra Wong Yang.

On September 9, 2015, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a new policy memorandum, signed by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, regarding the prosecution of individuals in corporate fraud cases—”Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing” (“the Yates Memorandum”).

The Yates Memorandum has been heralded as a sign of a new resolve at DOJ, and follows a series of public statements made by DOJ officials indicating that they intend to adopt a more severe posture towards “flesh-and-blood” corporate criminals, not just corporate entities. Furthermore, the Yates Memorandum formalizes six guidelines that are intended “to strengthen [DOJ’s] pursuit of corporate wrongdoing.”

Though much of the Yates Memorandum is not entirely novel, corporations and their executives should take close note of DOJ’s increasing and public focus on individual prosecutions. Additionally, both corporations and DOJ should take note of how the Yates Memorandum may carry a number of consequences—intended and unintended—with respect to cooperation with DOJ investigations.

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SEC Charges Computer Sciences Corporation & Former Executives With Accounting Fraud

Nicholas S. Goldin is a partner and Yafit Cohn is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher publication.

On June 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) entered into settled administrative cease-and-desist proceedings with Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) and some of its former executives due to the company’s alleged manipulation of financial results and concealment of problems with the company’s largest contract. [1] Among other things, CSC agreed to pay a $190 million penalty to settle the charges, and two of CSC’s former executives agreed to return a portion of their compensation to CSC pursuant to the clawback provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The SEC also charged former CSC finance executives for ignoring accounting standards to increase reported profits.

Factual Background and SEC Findings

CSC entered into a contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (“NHS”) to build and deploy an electronic patient record system. The contract had the potential to earn CSC $5.4 billion in revenue if the company satisfied the timeframes outlined in the contract. The contract also included penalties of up to $160,000 per day for missed deadlines. CSC had trouble developing the software. CSC and NHS amended the contract, NHS agreeing to waive the penalties in exchange for certainty of deployment of the electronic record system on an agreed upon date. It later became clear that CSC would not be able to meet its commitments under the amended contract either.

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The SEC as the Whistleblower’s Advocate

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent address at the Ray Garrett, Jr. Corporate and Securities Law Institute–Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Illinois; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I am very honored to address the Garrett Institute, one of the most important programs in the country for corporate and securities lawyers, and to be in David’s home territory of Northwestern Law School where he served as Dean before going on to serve as a very distinguished Chairman of the SEC in the late 1980s.

Although the Garrett Institute was established 35 years ago to honor former SEC Chairman Ray Garrett, Jr., I really first came to learn about him when I did a bit of research for a speech I gave in honor of former SEC Commissioner Al Sommer on the importance of the SEC as an independent agency. Mr. Sommer, himself a legendary Commissioner, was recommended by Chairman Garrett to succeed him as Chairman. Seemingly, that did not come to pass because Commissioner Sommer was a Democrat during a Republican administration. That, however, did not stop Chairman Garrett, a Republican, from recommending the person he thought would be the best for the job.

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Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior

The following post comes to us from Lee Biggerstaff of the Department of Finance at Miami University, David Cicero of the Department of Finance at the University of Alabama, and Andy Puckett of the Department of Finance at the University of Tennessee.

Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.

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SEC Enforcement Developments in 2014, and a Look Forward

The following post comes to us from Bill McLucas, partner and chair of the securities department at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication by Mr. McLucas; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.

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Bondholders and Securities Class Actions

The following post comes to us from James Park, Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about securities litigation includes: Rethinking Basic by Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here) and Negative-Expected-Value Suits by Lucian Bebchuk and Alon Klement.

Prior studies of corporate and securities law litigation have focused almost entirely on cases filed by shareholder plaintiffs. Bondholders are thought to play little role in holding corporations accountable for poor governance that leads to fraud. My article, Bondholders and Securities Class Actions, challenges that conventional view in light of new evidence that bond investors are increasingly recovering losses through securities class actions.

Drawing upon a data set of 1660 securities class actions filed from 1996 through 2005, I find that bondholder involvement in securities class actions is increasing. Bondholder recoveries were rare for the first five years covered by the data set, averaging about 3% of settlements from 1996 through 2000. The rate of bondholder recoveries increased to an average of 8% of settlements from 2001 through 2005. Bondholder recoveries have not only become more frequent, they are disproportionately represented in the largest settlements of securities class actions. For the period covered by the data set, bondholders recovered in 4 of the 5 largest settlements and 19 of the 30 largest settlements.

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Elements of an Effective Whistleblower Hotline

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, Chief Operating Partner concentrating in the corporate and securities area at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit, Walt Draney, and Todd Freier.

It has been reported that approximately two-thirds of companies in the U.S. are affected by fraud, losing an estimated 1.2% of revenue each year to such activity. [1] Indirect costs associated with fraud, such as reputational damage and costs associated with investigation and remediation of the fraudulent acts, may also be substantial. When and where implemented, an internal whistleblower hotline is a critical component of a company’s anti-fraud program, as tips are consistently the most common method of detecting fraud. [2] Consequently, it is essential that companies consider implementing, if they have not already done so, effective whistleblower hotlines. [3] To the extent hotlines are currently in place, companies need to evaluate them to ensure that the hotlines are operating as intended and are effective in preventing and identifying unethical or potentially unlawful activity, including corporate fraud, securities violations and employment discrimination or harassment. This evaluation should be a key element of every company’s assessment of its compliance and ethics program.

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SEC Whistleblower Program Achieves Critical Mass

The following post comes to us from Matt T. Morley, partner in the Government Enforcement practice area at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates alert authored by Mr. Morley.

Two recent Dodd-Frank whistleblower awards suggest that the program is becoming the kind of “game changer” for law enforcement that many had predicted. The program, which took effect in August 2011, mandates the payment of bounties to persons who voluntarily provide information leading to a successful securities enforcement action in which more than $1 million is recovered. Informants are entitled to receive between 10 and 30 percent of the amounts recovered, with the precise amount to be determined by the SEC.

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