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Univ. of Toledo College of Law

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

SEC, Dell and Michael Dell Settle Accounting Fraud Charges

The SEC, and Dell Inc.settled charges that Dell failed to disclose material information to investors and used fraudulent accounting to make it falsely appear that the company was consistently meeting Wall Street earnings targets and reducing its operating expenses.  In addition, the SEC charged Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell, former CEO Kevin Rollins, and former CFO James Schneider for their roles in the disclosure violations. The SEC charged Schneider, former regional Vice President of Finance Nicholas Dunning, and former Assistant Controller Leslie Jackson for their roles in the improper accounting.

Dell Inc. agreed to pay a $100 million penalty to settle the SEC’s charges. Michael Dell and Rollins each agreed to pay a $4 million penalty, and Schneider agreed to pay $3 million, to settle the SEC’s charges against them. Dunning and Jackson also agreed to settle the SEC’s charges.

The SEC alleges that Dell did not disclose to investors large exclusivity payments the company received from Intel Corporation to not use central processing units (CPUs) manufactured by Intel’s main rival. It was these payments rather than the company’s management and operations that allowed Dell to meet its earnings targets. After Intel cut these payments, Dell again misled investors by not disclosing the true reason behind the company’s decreased profitability.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Dell Inc., Michael Dell, Rollins, and Schneider misrepresented the basis for the company’s ability to consistently meet or exceed consensus analyst EPS estimates from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2006. Without the Intel payments, Dell would have missed the EPS consensus in every quarter during this period. The SEC’s complaint further alleges that Dell’s most senior former accounting personnel including Schneider, Dunning, and Jackson engaged in improper accounting by maintaining a series of “cookie jar” reserves that it used to cover shortfalls in operating results from FY 2002 to FY 2005. Dell’s fraudulent accounting made it appear that it was consistently meeting Wall Street earnings targets and reducing its operating expenses through the company’s management and operations.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Dell Inc. consented to the entry of an order that permanently restrains and enjoins it from violation of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Sections 10(b), 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 10b-5, 12b-20, 13a-1, and 13a-13. Dell Inc. also agreed to enhance its Disclosure Review Committee and disclosure processes, including the retention of an independent consultant to recommend improvements to those processes and enhance training regarding the disclosure requirements of the federal securities laws.

Michael Dell and Rollins settled the SEC’s disclosure charges, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, by each agreeing to pay the $4 million penalties and consenting to the entry of an order that permanently restrains and enjoins each of them from violating Sections 17(a)(2) and (3) of the Securities Act and from violating or aiding and abetting violations of other provisions of the federal securities laws.

Schneider consented to settle the disclosure and accounting fraud charges against him without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, and agreed to pay the $3 million penalty, disgorgement of $83,096, and prejudgment interest of $38,640. Dunning and Jackson consented to settle the SEC’s improper accounting charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations. Dunning agreed to pay a penalty of $50,000. In their settlement offers, Schneider, Dunning and Jackson consented to the issuance of administrative orders pursuant to Rule 102(e) of the Commission’s Rules of Practice, suspending each of them from appearing or practicing before the SEC as an accountant with the right to apply for reinstatement after five years for Schneider and three years for Dunning and Jackson.

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