Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

Monday, September 8, 2008

United Rentals Settles Fraud Charges with SEC

United Rentals, Inc. (URI) settled SEC charges alleging that URI engaged in financial fraud and in a broad range of other improper accounting practices and agreed to pay a $14 million penalty. URI is one of the largest equipment rental companies in the world. 

The Commission's complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleged that, from late 2000 through 2002, URI engaged in a series of fraudulent transactions undertaken in order to meet URI's earnings forecasts and analyst expectations. The fraud was accomplished primarily through a series of interlocking three-party sale-leaseback transactions orchestrated by URI's then- Chief Financial Officer, Michael Nolan, and its then- Chief Acquisitions Officer, John Milne. Nolan and Milne were previously charged by the SEC for individual wrongdoing.  The SEC's complaint also alleges that in another effort to improve its earnings, URI engaged in a series of fraudulent "trade packages" with suppliers. The company sold blocks of used equipment for amounts in excess of fair value, in exchange for certain undisclosed financial inducements offered to those suppliers.

In addition, the SEC alleges that from 1997 to 2000, during a period of enormous growth through acquisitions, URI engaged in other improper accounting practices involving its valuations of acquired assets, use of acquisition reserves, and accounting for customer relationships as well as improperly accounting for other items that overstated net income, including its estimation and recording of self-insurance reserves, its recognition of equipment rental revenues, and its income tax accounting.

In addition to the financial penalty, URI consented to a permanent injunction against further violations.

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