While Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco offer the marquee examples of CFOs brought down in the past five years of legal action against accounting abuses, a report issued by the President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force calculates that at least 53 finance chiefs have been convicted since 2002.
In what is becoming a great year for fifth anniversaries of corporate enforcement activity, the tally of convicted CFOs appeared in the task force’s review of its own first five years in business. It said that there have been 1,236 convictions in all in such corporate cases, including 214 chief executives, 23 corporate counsels or attorneys, and 128 vice presidents. The task force gave itself significant credit, noting that it “has compiled a strong record of combating corporate fraud and punishing those who violate the trust of employees and investors.”
In addition to the convictions, the task force noted, more than $1 billion dollars in fraud-related forfeitures has been distributed to victims of corporate fraud over that span.
President Bush created the task force on July 9, 2002, amid an avalanche of corporate scandals. In its five-year accounting today, it ticked off a partial list of 23 individual cases of enforcement that had resulted in multiple convictions. In the Enron case alone, it said, criminal charges were brought against 36 defendants, including 27 former Enron Corp. executives, with 18 of those charged pleading guilty or being found guilty after trial. Among those convicted were CFO Andrew Fastow, CEO Jeffrey Skilling, and its late chairman, Kenneth Lay.
Chaired by Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, the task force includes senior Department of Justice officials and seven U.S. attorneys, along with heads of the Departments of Treasury and Labor, and of the Securities an Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.
The charges brought over the five years have included securities fraud, insider trading, market manipulation, obstruction of justice, false statements, stock option backdating, conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the task force reported.
“The success of the task force goes beyond the number of convictions and forfeiture,” the group said in its report. “Over the past five years, the task force has increased cooperation among federal agencies and leveraged the resources of the federal government to combat corporate fraud.” The sharing of information with prosecutors and others was cited as one major advancement.
It also noted the role of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, along with other tools provided by Congress. More than 50 defendants have been charged under new securities-fraud provisions from Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 1348, it said.
At an event celebrating the accomplishments of the task force, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales noted that “the criminal conduct that never occurred because of the widespread deterrent effect” from corporate crimes being exposed was perhaps its most important accomplishment.