Huron Consulting Group, a consulting firm set up by a group of former Arthur Andersen partners, is now facing a series of shareholder class-action lawsuits after admitting last week to accounting irregularities.
The Chicago-based firm was founded by about two dozen former partners of the auditing firm, which collapsed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Gary Holdren, Hurons chairman and CEO, resigned last Friday, along with CFO Gary Burge and chief accounting officer Wayne Lipski, after Hurons audit committee found that payments had been redistributed among its employees and employees of the firms it was acquiring.
The acquisition-related payments were not consistent with the employees ownership percentages. The firm denied that the payments were kickbacks, but Huron nevertheless restated its financial results for 2006, 2007, 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, reducing its reported income by $57 million.
Now Huron is facing a series of shareholder lawsuits, including five from a single law firm. Among those on the receiving end are Holdren, Burge and Lipski, along with Hurons auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Hurons share price has fallen about 70 percent in the week since the news of the accounting irregularities surfaced.
Some observers are blaming a culture left over from the Andersen days of loose accounting practices. However, the situation could be a matter of not knowing how to properly classify the payments. In some cases, the earn-out payments were tied to performance and should have been classified as compensation, but were instead classified as goodwill.
Nevertheless, the situation seems reminiscent of Andersen and WorldCom mixing up billions of dollars in operating expenses and capital expenses. Fuzzy accounting, to say the least.