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Monday, March 15, 2010

Former InfoUSA CEO Settles Charges of Fraudulent Compensation Scheme

The SEC oday charged three former senior executives and a former director of infoUSA Inc., an Omaha-based database compilation company, for their roles in a scheme in which the CEO funneled illegal compensation to himself in the form of perks worth millions of dollars.  According to the SEC, Vinod Gupta, the former CEO and Chairman of infoUSA Inc. and infoGROUP Inc. (Info), fraudulently used corporate funds to pay almost $9.5 million in personal expenses to support his lavish lifestyle. He additionally caused the company to enter into $9.3 million of undisclosed business transactions between Info and other companies in which he had a personal stake.  The SEC also charged the former chairman of Info's audit committee, Vasant H. Raval, and two of the company's former chief financial officers, Rajnish K. Das and Stormy L. Dean, for enabling Gupta to carry out the scheme.


The SEC's complaints, filed in federal district court in Nebraska, allege that from 2003 to 2007, Gupta improperly used corporate funds for more than $3 million worth of personal jet travel for himself, family, and friends to such destinations as South Africa, Italy, and Cancun. He also used investor money to pay $2.8 million in expenses related to his yacht; $1.3 million in personal credit card expenses; and other costs associated with 28 club memberships, 20 automobiles, homes around the country, and three personal life insurance policies. The SEC alleges that Raval, the Chairman of the Audit Committee, failed to respond appropriately to various red flags concerning Gupta's expenses and Info's related party transactions with Gupta's other entities. Two Info internal auditors raised concerns to Raval that Gupta was submitting requests for reimbursement of personal expenses, yet Raval failed to take meaningful action to further investigate the matter and he omitted critical facts in a report to the board concerning Gupta's expenses.

The SEC further alleges that Das and Dean allowed Gupta to support his lavish lifestyle by rubber-stamping hundreds of his expense reimbursement requests. Das and Dean approved Gupta's expense reimbursement requests despite the fact that the requests lacked sufficient explanation of business purpose and supporting documentation, even in the face of concerns raised by several Info employees. Das and Dean also signed management representation letters to Info's outside auditor falsely representing that all related party transactions with Gupta's entities had been properly recorded and disclosed in Info's financial statements.

Gupta, Raval, and Info agreed to settle the SEC's charges without admitting or denying the allegations against them.

Gupta agreed to pay disgorgement of $4,045,000, prejudgment interest of $1,145,400, and a penalty of $2,240,700. He consented to an order barring him from serving as an officer or director of a public company, and placing restrictions on the voting of his Info common stock.

Raval agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty and consented to an order barring him from serving as an officer or director of a public company for five years.

The SEC's case against Das and Dean is ongoing.

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