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“One of the worst accounting frauds ever”

Tuesday, Jan 21, 2014

* The Tribune takes a long look at one of Bruce Rauner’s prized GTCR acquisitions, Lason, Inc

A few months after praising its performance, Rauner resigned from its board of directors just as the company’s high-flying stock began to crater. Lason imploded amid allegations by investors and criminal investigators that top executives cooked the books to boost the company’s value.

Neither Rauner nor his partners at the venture firm GTCR were accused of any wrongdoing. The firm netted at least $32 million from its investment by selling almost all of its stock before the earnings scandal became public. However, records show, other investors and lenders lost about $285 million as a result of the systematic accounting fraud, and three top executives went to prison. […]

Prosecutors alleged that for most of that time — from approximately 1997 through early 2000 — Lason’s success was bolstered by bookkeeping sleight of hand. The maneuver, referred to around the office as “Tailwind,” was orchestrated primarily by William Rauwerdink, Lason’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Rauwerdink, who eventually became a company director as well, was hired by Rauner and fellow board members in 1996 just months after he was sanctioned and fined more than $200,000 by the SEC over insider trading allegations at his previous job. He neither admitted nor denied the allegations, Lason noted in an annual report to the SEC.

Messinger told federal investigators the Tailwind scheme counted on manipulating financial data from newly acquired companies to inflate Lason earnings, driving up the stock price while masking Lason’s real financial condition. But the scheme began to unravel as acquisitions slowed and it became difficult to meet Wall Street expectations with accounting tricks alone.

The solution of the Lason conspirators was to make up $13 million in anticipated revenues from work that wasn’t real, according to court records. To mislead investors and stock analysts, the false numbers were highlighted in a company press release distributed in late October 1999. The figures were also folded into an official report filed with the SEC on Nov. 15 that wrongly claimed operating income in the third quarter of 1999 had far exceeded the same period the year before. […]

[Peter J. Henning, an expert on securities fraud and white collar crime] said Lason might be recalled as “one of the worst accounting frauds ever” had it not been upstaged by similar scandals at much bigger companies — Enron and WorldCom. […]

Go read the whole thing.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


31 Comments
  1. - William j Kelly - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:14 am:

    If anyone of us made 32million on a deal that turned out to be “the worst accounting fraud ever” I think we would be in a little trouble. Yet the Rahm’s and the Rauner’s are never to blame for anything. Good work if you can fraud, I mean find it!


  2. - truthteller - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:17 am:

    Rauner says he is going to run the state like a business. Like Lason? Like Enron?


  3. - MrJM - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:19 am:

    [Bruce Rauner’s firm] netted at least $32 million from its investment by selling almost all of its stock before the earnings scandal became public. *** Rauwerdink, who eventually became a company director as well, was hired by Rauner and fellow board members in 1996 just months after he was sanctioned and fined more than $200,000 by the SEC over insider trading allegations at his previous job.

    Buh… buh… but class warfare!!1!

    – MrJM


  4. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:24 am:

    Read the whole thing. It’s interesting, but not particularly politically useful. GTCR has a great record as an investor. With venture and private equity firms (particularly with venture), you have quite a few failures. This is noteworthy because of the fraud.

    Politically, it’s complicated and therefore difficult to explain. For opponents with limited resources, I would not waste the few paid resources I had on this. Rahm is way more powerful in the primary. If he gets to a general, I can see this coming back as part of PQ’s efforts to delegitimize Rauner. For now, expect radio silence.


  5. - LincolnLounger - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:31 am:

    Imagine what Pat Quinn and the DGA will do with 30-second spots like this in the general election.

    This guy is an albatross waiting to happen to drag all Republicans down in November. The demographics already are not kind to us — and we want to sign up for this and Oberweis as our standard-bearer?

    Idiotic.


  6. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:36 am:

    With the Feds crawling all over this, it appears they didn’t find anything on Rauner. Looks more like unlucky timing. Now if we put lason over the pension system…..

    On a side note, it seems like having a savvy investor leverage our retirement funds, or part of em, could get us much better returns. Basically this is what buffet does. Uses Berkshire money to do thing like loan Bank of America money at a high rate of return. Perhaps we don’t need to change retires retirement income, just get some non political hacks to run it instead if people pushing fees to Friends :)


  7. - ZC - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:40 am:

    The Feds never seem to find anything serious on guys like Rauner. That alone doesn’t say much. But agreed this would be tough to explain or use as an attack.


  8. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:41 am:

    –”We spend a lot of time living with our companies on a week-to-week basis, understanding what’s going on, and being in the flow of information, so we can be helpful and knowledgeable about the operation,” Rauner said.–

    A hands-on guy.

    Now we know how you run the state like a business.

    Hire a crook to cook the books, rip off investors, then cash out before the scam falls apart.

    Maybe he can hire Stu Levine — again — on work release.


  9. - Chi - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:42 am:

    Ghost; without going into detail, it’s not that easy. Wish it was.


  10. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:49 am:

    Chicago Cynic, suggestions such as “mums the word because it’s too complicated” and “Five Weeks! Five Weeks!” work only in the mainstream media, when they work at all.


  11. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:50 am:

    BTW, the context for my last post was a Republican Primary.


  12. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 9:53 am:

    lol AND I just realized that Rich may have alluded to that in his column. (Well done, Rich!)


  13. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    Everybody should calm down and relax. This is nothing. It’s not like this was the WORST accounting fraud ever. It’s just one of the worst ever. Big difference.

    And just because Rauner’s firm hired the alleged fraudster, then made a tidy profit by selling before the news broke, doesn’t mean anything. Nothing to see here folks. It’s too complicated for the rubes to understand anyway. This happens in business all the time, how is a guy like Rauner supposed to know what’s going on in all of the companies he owns?


  14. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 10:39 am:

    If I’m interpreting this correctly, I’m also finding the suggestions to give it all a rest because Quinn will beat Rauner during the General interesting.

    Do people really believe that such logic works, or is this the result of a brainstorming session and now they’re tossing everything out there to see whether it sticks? Either way, it seems very flawed…if you think about it. Doesn’t it?


  15. - concern1 - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 10:55 am:

    I’m confused, is Rauner running for governor or top Cook?


  16. - Jimbo - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 11:35 am:

    Yeah, he’ll shake down Springfield alright.


  17. - Toure's Latte - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 11:44 am:

    In just one instance, Bruce Rauner took $32 million in pure profits and left thousands of people who trusted him $285 million poorer. Bruce Rauner says he’ll run Illinois the same way. We believe him. Vote for Pat Quinn.

    What’s so hard to convey there?


  18. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 11:53 am:

    “…or top Cook?”

    Why? Is he hiding and is there already video of him escaping through a kitchen? ;)


  19. - Internet Zaibatsu - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 1:20 pm:

    I am surprised that we haven’t heard more about Rauner’s time as a director for divine Interventures (”Chicago’s Internet Zaibatsu”). For those of you who don’t remember, divine was a dot com holding company bringing together various clouted Chicago people from finance, government, and technology. While Rauner was a director on the company’s board, divine pushed to sell its watered stock to an increasingly skeptical public during the first half of 2000. In a highly unusual action, divine fired its original IPO underwriter, Credit Suisse First Boston, after CSFB showed reluctance towards divine’s IPO sales tactics. It got Robertson Stephens to do the deed and, after a couple of more delays, finally sold stock to the public in July 2000, valuing divine at an incredible $8.5 billion. Rauner’s stake of 550,000 shares was worth $8 million. After the IPO lockup expired in January 2001, Rauner announced his resignation from the board on February 2, 2001. That would have allowed him to sell his shares without having to disclose publicly. Two years later, divine filed for bankruptcy. Guess who tried to buy divine’s assets out of bankruptcy? GTCR, Rauner’s firm.


  20. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 1:56 pm:

    Internet, that’s a good story. The guy that ran divine (into the ground) Flip Filipowski (sp?) was quite a character.

    To the post, we have Hands-On Hammer And Shake sounding more like Sgt. Schultz about Stu Levine and Lason. AA is no political genius (Willy handles that stuff at the con$ulting Firm) but I think I could throw together a 30 second combo of Rauner quotes and Headlines about these two blowups that could ring some bells. Am I wrong?


  21. - circularfiringsquad - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 1:59 pm:

    The Lason honchos are out of the can
    Wondering if anyone is trying to track them down to ask them about FarmerBrucey?


  22. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 2:32 pm:

    ZC :

    I am not sure this is difficult to message.

    It is essentially a Ponzi Scheme.

    Rauner’s GTRC put Ponzi in charge.

    Rauner’s company pocketed $32 million, while the rest of us lost hundreds of millions.

    Not that complicated.

    and as someone mentioned earlier in this thread, he has opened the door wide since he is running on his xredentials as a businessman and promising to run government the same way.

    Not a stand alone attack, but 15 seconds as part of a longer narrative.


  23. - walker - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    “I’m outraged and embarrassed that people I hired would do such a thing!”

    (Working for Christie)


  24. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 4:08 pm:

    (Working for Christie)

    Wow. Could Illinois possibly live up to that kind of behavior? Just how crazy do you yourself have to be not to recognize that level of crazy in someone else? Especially, someone you work with on a daily basis?


  25. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 4:50 pm:

    YDD, always good to hear from you. Thanks for putting my jumbled thoughts in order.


  26. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 4:53 pm:

    Anon 4:08

    (working for Christie)

    See Blagojevich, Rod.

    Very Truly Yours,

    AA


  27. - sal-says - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 5:03 pm:

    - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    Everybody should calm down and relax….This happens in business all the time, how is a guy like Rauner supposed to know what’s going on in all of the companies he owns?

    Sorry…The bucks stops…Oh, maybe not.


  28. - Lincoln Lad - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 7:41 pm:

    Most attempts to defraud are complicated… And difficult to understand by the typical person. Because you don’t understand it while reading an article in the newspaper… Doesn’t make it any less significant. People lost huge sums of money…retirements were derailed… Families were ruined. I know - I worked there.


  29. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 7:49 pm:

    Lincoln Lad, this one isn’t difficult.

    A known crook was hired to cook the books. The investors were lied to in service of the con. The scammers, who bought low, sold high to the marks before it all went south.

    The conmen took money off the table; the nebbies got hosed.

    Not difficult at all. It’s called the old pump-and-dump, and it’s as dependable as an 18-dollar watch if you’re willing to make a buck that way.


  30. - Jon Zahm - Tuesday, Jan 21, 14 @ 11:21 pm:

    Important story. We broke it in a 4 part series August 1-4 on www.norauner.com


  31. - Percival - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:25 am:

    Rauner is in trouble on this stuff. It is very easy for his opponent to exploit with sound bites (I can see the attack ads already.). The actual events are indeed hard to explain. But Rauner is the one who will have to do the explaining.


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