The Limestone Cops — Tips on Madoff Red Flags Never Escalated at SEC

It’s hard to believe that with all the resources poured into government following the adoption of Sarbanes Oxley Act in 2002, the escalation process in the SEC failed in the Madoff case. New reports show that junior SEC staff neglected to involve more seasoned enforcement officers and failed to stop what ended up to be a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. See SEC chiefs in dark as Madoff evaded junior staff.

The cost to all the investors has been devastating and the internal escalation process in the agency needs signicant remediation.

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SEC Files Settled Enforcement Actions Against UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Former General Counsel in Stock Options Backdating Case

Litigation Release No. 20836 / December 22, 2008

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil injunctive action against UnitedHealth Group Inc., a Minnetonka, Minnesota health insurance company, alleging that it engaged in a scheme to backdate stock options. Without admitting or denying the allegations, UnitedHealth agreed to settle to charges that it violated the reporting, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws.

In a separate complaint, the Commission charged former UnitedHealth General Counsel David J. Lubben with participating in the stock option backdating scheme. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Lubben consented to, among other things, an antifraud injunction, a $575,000 civil penalty, and a five-year officer and director bar.

The Commission alleges that between 1994 and 2005 UnitedHealth concealed more than $1 billion in stock option compensation by providing senior executives and other employees with “in-the-money” options while secretly backdating the grants to avoid reporting the expenses to investors.

According to the Commission’s complaint, certain UnitedHealth officers used hindsight to pick advantageous grant dates for the company’s nonqualified stock options that on many occasions coincided with, or were close to, dates of historically low annual and quarterly closing prices for UnitedHealth’s common stock. Although pricing the options below current prices required the company to report a compensation expense under well-settled accounting principles, UnitedHealth avoided reporting the charges by creating inaccurate and misleading documents indicating that the options had been granted on the earlier date. The backdated grants resulted in materially misleading disclosures, with the company overstating its net income in fiscal years 1994 through 2005 by as much as $1.526 billion.

For more see SEC.gov.