Two indictments have been issued and multiple guilty pleas have been entered in the most egregious cases. To a public corporation, the potential consequences of engaging in options backdating are manifold and can range from none whatsoever to having founders and CEOs going to prison. For example, in the case involving Brocade Communications, the SEC charged the former CEO and the former Vice President of Human Resources with criminally violating the securities laws.
In addition to the governmental investigations, more than 200 companies have completed, or are conducting, internal investigations — either because they want the comfort of knowing that they have not engaged in options backdating or they have an inkling that they did and want to be proactive in addressing the problem. In a follow-up study to his earlier work, Professor Lie estimated that 29 percent of 7,774 companies he surveyed backdated option grants to executives between 19. The facts of that case as set forth in the indictment were egregious.
The backdating problem was first highlighted by Professor Erik Lie of the University of Iowa, who published his initial study in 2004.
Professor Lie concluded that the robust profitability of so many options was statistically impossible absent some artificial influence such as backdating.
As in other enforcement areas, the SEC has a penchant for pursuing through civil actions matters that involve blatant and intentional misconduct.
Even Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs was implicated by an internal investigation into backdating, although he apparently did not receive, or otherwise benefit from, the backdated grants.
Fifty-two companies currently under criminal investigation. Moreover, the company avoids having to expense the options as current compensation, thus increasing earnings in the near term.
As a consequence, the option is immediately profitable, or “in the money,” to the option holder.
The SEC is investigating many companies, ranging from small to Fortune 500 companies, for options irregularities.
Similarly, the FBI has reported that it has 52 companies under criminal investigation. Department of Justice has said it will bring criminal charges where defendants falsify corporate books and records; issue false financial statements; lie to boards of directors, auditors or the SEC; or file false reports.