Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The SEC continues to bring backdating charges. The latest:
The SEC filed charges against Silicon Valley semiconductor company KLA-Tencor Corporation (KLA) and its former Chief Executive Officer, Kenneth L. Schroeder, alleging that they engaged in an illicit scheme to backdate stock option grants. The Commission alleges that, since 1997, KLA concealed more than $200 million in stock option compensation by providing employees and executives with potentially lucrative "in-the-money" options while secretly backdating the grants to avoid reporting the expenses to investors. The Commission further alleges that Schroeder repeatedly backdated options between 1999 and 2002, and once in 2005 - even after he received advice from company counsel that retroactively selecting grant dates without adequate disclosure was improper.
The Commission's complaint against KLA alleges that former company executives routinely used hindsight to issue options to employees priced at or near KLA's lowest stock price of the preceding weeks. Although pricing the options below current prices required the company to report a compensation charge under well-settled accounting principles, former KLA officials avoided reporting the charges by falsely documenting that the options had been granted on an earlier date. The backdated grants resulted in materially misleading disclosures, with the Company overstating its net income in fiscal years 1998 through 2005 by as much as 156 percent.
In a separate complaint filed against Schroeder, the Commission charges that he repeatedly engaged in backdating after becoming CEO in 1999, including pricing large awards of options to himself that were "in the money" by millions of dollars. According to the complaint, Schroeder received a legal memorandum in March 2001 cautioning that "the Board and its committees are limited in their ability to grant options at a retroactive price without exposing the company to risk of an accounting charge." The memo further warned that "[a]ny attempt to set a price before such a grant is made raises substantial risks under securities and tax laws [and] accounting rules and gives rise to disclosure obligations." The Commission alleges that Schroeder nonetheless continued to backdate options.
KLA-Tencor agreed to settle the matter by consenting to a permanent injunction. The Commission declined to charge the company with fraud or seek a monetary penalty, based in part on the company's cooperation in the Commission's investigation, as well as its far-reaching remedial measures.
The Commission is seeking injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and monetary penalties against Schroeder, in addition to an order barring him from serving as an officer or director of a public company. In addition, the complaint seeks reimbursement of bonuses and profits from stock sales pursuant to Section 304 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.