The members of the American Board of Forensic Accounting, the advisory board behind the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute’s Certified Forensic Accountant credential, have unanimously resigned amid questions about the legitimacy of the credential and the organization behind it.
During a 45-minute conference call last Thursday, the members of the board decided to resign after learning that the founder of the ACFEI, Dr. Robert O’Block, had been negotiating to sell the Springfield, Mo.-based organization without the knowledge of the board members.
“We were told that there was going to be a spinoff of the organization and that O’Block was getting rid of it, and they never came to the board and told us about it,” said Michael G. Kessler, president and CEO of Kessler International, a forensic accounting and computer forensics firm in New York. “They just did this behind our backs, and we all just decided to resign.”
“I felt like, wow, everybody in the world who doesn’t need to know this, knows this, and now I find out from one of my board members who heard it through the grapevine,” said the chairman of the board, Robert Lechter, CPA, a sole practitioner in Maryland. “That’s just an example of our frustration.”
In addition, all of the board members have canceled their speaking commitments at an upcoming conference that the ACFEI was planning in Tulsa, Okla., in May.
“I wasn’t scheduled to attend the conference, but I understand a lot of people who were scheduled to speak and to attend are not even going,” said Kessler.
Kessler said he had received an email last week, however, seeking new members of the board.
“We got an email yesterday,” he said in an interview last Friday. “He sent it to the entire membership. He’s looking for people to take over the board, yet we know that he’s looking to sell it. But we don’t understand what he’s going to sell because he has no assets. He recently lost a trademark lawsuit in connection with the Certified Forensic Accountant credential. So that’s not an asset. The only thing he’s got anymore is a mailing list. Without a board, he’s got nothing.”
The link to the American Board of Forensic Accounting page went to a Web page that simply said Thursday afternoon it was “under maintenance,” although the page for the Certified Forensic Accountant program was still available.
Kessler is a former chairman of the board, and he said that O’Block had tried to sell the organization to a former acting chairman, forensic accountant Robert Minniti, a CPA in Phoenix, who had resigned from the board in January, but he has so far declined to buy it. Minniti did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ACFEI had lost a lawsuit over trademark infringement on the Certified Forensic Accountant, or Cr.FA, credential from the CFA Institute, which offers the similarly named CFA credential for Chartered Financial Analysts. But the board members were not apprised of the situation.
“The board was not aware of a lot of the stuff that was happening, and it’s been happening for quite some time where we would hear secondhand, even when he was sued for trademark infringement,” said Kessler. “We as a board didn’t learn about it until one of us did some research and happened to find out about it six or seven months later.”
Lechter said he harbored no animosity against O’Block, however. “Believe me, there are no hard feelings or animosities,” he said. “I, as the chairman of the board, as anyone in my position would be, was a little offended that I wasn’t contacted with some of this stuff by Dr. O’Block. I think it would have been, if nothing else, courteous so that I could inform my board members.”
Kessler said he has heard little from O’Block since resigning. “He had an underling give us a call and wanted to find out why we resigned, but we were never even thanked for our service,” he said. “I’ve been on that board for countless years, I’d say more than 10, and not even a phone call thanking me for my previous service.”
Accounting Today reached out to the ACFEI and Dr. O'Block. Tom Schafbuch, an attorney for the ACFEI and corporate counsel for one of its other credentialing organizations, the Center for National Threat Assessment, which offers the Certified National Threat Analyst credential, forwarded a statement to Accounting Today. “The American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI) is proud of the Certified Forensic Accountant credential it developed with forensic accountants over the last 10 years,” said the ACFEI. “ACFEI wants to move in another direction and transfer ownership of the credential to accounting professionals to further strengthen the credential. We are very thankful for all the time and effort the current board has put into the Certified Forensic Accountant credential. ACFEI expected reorganization as it proceeded with plans to transfer the board and the certification to a new party and is proud to keep these former board members as members of the organization. ACFEI will only finalize the transfer with an entity that is willing to maintain the same rigorous standards and customer service that ACFEI gives to all its other credentials.”
Lechter said he was disappointed about the developments. He had been trying unsuccessfully to get accreditation for the Certified Forensic Accountant credential, which he pointed out had stiff requirements.
“We already have to have an unbelievable base of knowledge to sit for the exam and it centers around very technical issues of courtroom procedure in addition to understanding all the general areas of forensic accounting,” he said. “It’s a pretty involved certification, and we were working with ACFEI to get the program accredited through national accreditation organizations. That was my goal as chairman, to comply with all of the requirements necessary, working with the accreditation organizations to have this nationally accredited, which would then speak volumes for the program. We just feel that the ACFEI was not in a position to really move forward with the program until they knew what was going on, so we felt that it was in all of our best interests to step down.”
The ACFEI differs from the ACFE, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, a much larger organization that offers the Certified Fraud Examiner credential. The ACFE declined to comment on the developments at the rival group, but the ACFE’s founder, Dr. Joseph Wells, has been critical of the ACFEI and the confusion that has arisen over the years between the two groups, noting in an article in the organization’s Fraud Magazine that “other than similar initials, the ACFE has nothing in common with the ACFEI.” He discussed in the article a documentary on PBS’s Frontline program in 2012 that also raised questions about the legitimacy of the ACFEI’s credentialing programs.
Kessler said he is also concerned about the other credentials offered by the group, including the Certified National Threat Analyst certification. “We really had a legitimate organization going as far as the accounting goes and wanted to press for accreditation,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is he has a whole thing for homeland security. Is our government relying on somebody’s fake credential to protect our nation?”