SEC Charges Chicago-Based Consulting Firm and Executives with Accounting Violations
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Chicago-based consulting firm and two of its former executives with accounting violations that overstated the company’s income for multiple years.
The SEC found that Huron Consulting Group Inc., a provider of financial and operational consulting services to clients in various industries, failed to properly record redistributions of sales proceeds by the selling shareholders of four firms acquired by Huron. The selling shareholders redistributed the money to employees at those firms who stayed on to work at Huron as well as other Huron employees and themselves.
Because the redistributions were contingent on the employees’ continued employment with Huron, based on the achievement of personal performance measures, or not clearly for a purpose other than compensation, Huron should have recorded the redistributions as compensation expense in its financial statements. By failing to do so, Huron overstated its pre-tax income to the public. Former chief financial officer Gary Burge and former controller and chief accounting officer Wayne Lipski oversaw these accounting decisions at Huron.
Huron agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by paying a $1 million penalty, and Burge and Lipski agreed to pay a total of nearly $300,000 in disgorgement and penalties to settle the charges against them.
“Huron’s income overstatements obscured the fact that a substantial portion of the money it paid to acquire other consulting firms was being used to retain professional talent at the firm,” said Merri Jo Gillette, Director of the SEC’s Chicago Regional Office. “Huron, Burge, and Lipski should have known that their flawed accounting gave investors a misleading impression of the profitability of Huron’s acquisitions.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled cease-and-desist proceedings, Huron’s financial statements for 2006, 2007, 2008, and the first quarter of 2009 were materially misstated as a result of these accounting failures. In August 2009, Huron restated those financial statements, thus reducing its net income by approximately $56 million.
The SEC’s order finds that in January 2008, Huron, Burge and Lipski considered an SEC Staff Accounting Bulletin, which referenced accounting principles applicable to the redistributions, but that they subsequently did not determine the full impact of the accounting principles on the company’s financial statements. As a result, Huron publicly overstated its pre-tax income by 3.7 percent for 2005, 6.09 percent for 2006, 30.45 percent for 2007, 68.59 percent for 2008, and 25.29 percent for the first quarter of 2009.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted in the Chicago Regional Office by Ruta Dudenas, Rebecca Bernard, Thomas Meier, and Paul Montoya with litigation counsel assistance from Robert Moye.