SEC Charges Seven Individuals with Aiding and Abetting Financial Fraud at Royal Ahold's U.S. Foodservice Subsidiary for Signing And Returning False Audit Confirmations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., Nov. 2, 2005 - The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed enforcement actions against seven individuals alleging they aided and abetted a massive financial fraud by signing and returning materially false audit confirmations sent to them by the auditors of the U.S. Foodservice, Inc. subsidiary of Royal Ahold (Koninklijke Ahold N.V.). All of the individuals charged, Brian Crowley, Robert Henuset, Ritchie Langfield, Frank Lysiak, Ernie Rosenberg, Dale Schulz, and Larry Stone, were employees of or agents for vendors that supplied U.S. Foodservice.
The Commission's complaints allege that U.S. Foodservice personnel contacted vendors and urged them to sign and return the false confirmation letters. In some cases U.S. Foodservice pressured the vendors; in other cases they provided side letters to the vendors assuring the vendors that they did not owe U.S. Foodservice the amounts reflected as outstanding in the confirmation letters. The letters clearly stated that the confirmations were being used in connection with the annual audit and the letters directed the defendants to return the confirmations directly to the company's auditors.
Each of the individuals aided and abetted the fraud by signing and sending to the company's independent auditors confirmation letters that they knew materially overstated the amounts of promotional allowance income paid or owed to U.S. Foodservice. The amounts overstated in the confirmations were often inflated by millions of dollars and by more than 100%.
All seven have each agreed to settle the Commission's action, without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, by consenting to permanent injunctions and payment of a $25,000 penalty. Also today, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York announced criminal charges in this matter against all seven individuals for conspiracy to falsify books and records.
"These actions demonstrate the Commission's continued scrutiny of third parties who help companies commit and hide financial fraud. Today's actions raise the number to sixteen non-Ahold individuals against whom the SEC has brought charges for misrepresenting financial information to Ahold's independent auditors. The use of third party confirmations is an important part of the audit process, and the Commission will hold accountable those who work to subvert it," said Scott Friestad, Associate Director of the Commission's Division of Enforcement.
"As we enter the upcoming audit season, recipients of audit confirmations are reminded of the importance of returning nothing but truthful information to auditors," said Susan Markel, Chief Accountant of the Commission's Division of Enforcement.
The complaints allege that U.S. Foodservice engaged in a scheme to report earnings equal to or greater than its targets, regardless of the company's true performance. U.S. Foodservice inflated its promotional allowance income by at least $700 million for fiscal years 2001 and 2002 and thereby caused Ahold to report materially false operating and net income for these periods. The annual audit confirmation process at U.S. Foodservice was systematically corrupted to help keep the fraud from being discovered.
On Jan. 13, 2005, the SEC filed enforcement actions against nine other individuals alleging they aided and abetted the same financial fraud by signing and returning materially false audit confirmations. (Litigation Release No. 19034).
On July 27, 2004 the SEC filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that Michael Resnick, Mark P. Kaiser, Lee and Carter engaged in or substantially participated in a scheme to overstate Ahold's income in SEC filings and other public announcements for at least fiscal years 2001 and 2002. Resnick, Kaiser, Lee, and Carter were top executives at Columbia, Md., based wholesale food distributor U.S. Foodservice, a major subsidiary of Ahold (Litigation Release No. 18797). The Commission also filed actions against Royal Ahold and others on Oct. 13, 2004 (Litigation Release No. 18929).
The Commission's investigation is continuing. The Commission acknowledges the assistance and cooperation of the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.