In November 2001, Arthur Andersen & Co. employees in that firm’s Houston office
shredded certain Enron audit workpapers during the midst of a federal investigation of the large
The decision to destroy those workpapers ultimately proved to be the undoing
of the prominent accounting firm.
A few years later, a felony conviction for obstruction of
justice would effectively put Andersen out of business.
Ironically, at the same time that the
Andersen personnel were shredding Enron workpapers, three senior members of the NextCard,
Inc., audit engagement team were altering the fiscal 2000 audit workpapers of that San
NextCard was founded during the late 1990s by Jeremy Lent, the former chief financial
officer of the large financial services company, Providian Financial Corporation.
business model was simple:
use a massive Internet-based marketing campaign to quickly grab a
large market share of the intensely competitive credit card industry.
By 2000, NextCard, which
by then was a public company, had signed up one million credit card customers.
NextCard’s customers tended to be high credit risks, which resulted in the company absorbing
much higher than normal bad debt losses.
When the company’s management team attempted to
conceal those large credit losses, the SEC and other federal regulatory authorities uncovered the
By 2003, the once high-flying Internet company was bankrupt and its former officers
were facing a litany of federal charges.
The San Francisco office of Ernst & Young audited NextCard’s periodic financial
statements. When the news of the federal investigations of NextCard became public in the fall of
2001, Robert Trauger, the NextCard audit engagement partner, made a poor decision.
decision was to alter the fiscal 2000 audit workpapers for NextCard to make it appear that Ernst
& Young had properly considered, investigated, and documented the company’s bad debt losses
and related allowance for bad debts.
During two meetings in November 2001, Trauger and his
top two subordinates secretly altered the 2000 NextCard audit workpapers.
To conceal the
alterations of the electronic workpapers, the three auditors reset an internal computer clock to
produce an appropriate electronic time stamp on those revised workpapers.
Trauger realized that the altered workpapers would be given to federal authorities
investigating NextCard and the 2000 audit of that company.
As a result, Trauger became the
first audit partner of a major accounting firm to be prosecuted under the criminal provisions of
the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
In October 2004, Trauger pleaded guilty to one count of
impeding a federal investigation and was sentenced to one year in federal prison and two years
of supervised release.