Share this infographic on your site!

The 10 Worst Corporate Accounting Scandals of All Time

Embed this infographic on your site!


The 10 Worst Corporate Accounting Scandals of All Time

If there is one theme to rival terrorism for defining the last decade-and-a-half, it would have to be corporate greed and malfeasance. Many of the biggest corporate accounting scandals in history happened during that time. Here's a chronological look back at some of the worst examples.

Waste Management Scandal (1998)

  • Company: Houston-based publicly traded waste management company
  • What happened: Reported $1.7 billion in fake earnings.
  • Main players: Founder/CEO/Chairman Dean L. Buntrock and other top executives; Arthur Andersen Company (auditors)
  • How they did it: The company allegedly falsely increased the depreciation time length for their property, plant and equipment on the balance sheets.
  • How they got caught: A new CEO and management team went through the books.
  • Penalties: Settled a shareholder class-action suit for $457 million. SEC fined ArthurAndersen $7 million.
  • Fun fact: After the scandal, new CEO A. Maurice Meyers set up an anonymous company hotline where employees could report dishonest or improper behavior.

Enron Scandal (2001)

  • Company: Houston-based commodities, energy and service corporation
  • What happened: Shareholders lost $74 billion, thousands of employees and investors lost their retirement accounts, and many employees lost their jobs.
  • Main players: CEO Jeff Skilling and former CEO Ken Lay.
  • How they did it: Kept huge debts off balance sheets.
  • How they got caught: Turned in by internal whistleblower Sherron Watkins; high stock prices fueled external suspicions.
  • Penalties: Lay died before serving time; Skilling got 24 years in prison. The company filed for bankruptcy. Arthur Andersen was found guilty of fudging Enron's accounts.
  • Fun fact: Fortune Magazine named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" 6 years in a row prior to the scandal.

WorldCom Scandal (2002)

  • Company: Telecommunications company; now MCI, Inc.
  • What happened: Inflated assets by as much as $11 billion, leading to 30,000 lost jobs and $180 billion in losses for investors.
  • Main player: CEO Bernie Ebbers
  • How he did it: Underreported line costs by capitalizing rather than expensing and inflated revenues with fake accounting entries.
  • How he got caught: WorldCom's internal auditing department uncovered $3.8 billion of fraud.
  • Penalties: CFO was fired, controller resigned, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Ebbers sentenced to 25 years for fraud, conspiracy and filing false documents with regulators.
  • Fun fact: Within weeks of the scandal, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, introducing the most sweeping set of new business regulations since the 1930s.

Tyco Scandal (2002)

  • Company: New Jersey-based blue-chip Swiss security systems.
  • What happened: CEO and CFO stole $150 million and inflated company income by $500 million.
  • Main players: CEO Dennis Kozlowski and former CFO Mark Swartz.
  • How they did it: Siphoned money through unapproved loans and fraudulent stock sales. Money was smuggled out of company disguised as executive bonuses or benefits.
  • How they got caught: SEC and Manhattan D.A. investigations uncovered questionable accounting practices, including large loans made to Kozlowski that were then forgiven.
  • Penalties: Kozlowski and Swartz were sentenced to 8-25 years in prison. A class-action lawsuit forced Tyco to pay $2.92 billion to investors.
  • Fun fact: At the height of the scandal Kozlowski threw a $2 million birthday party for his wife on a Mediterranean island, complete with a Jimmy Buffet performance.

HealthSouth Scandal (2003)

  • Company: Largest publicly traded health care company in the U.S.
  • What happened: Earnings numbers were allegedly inflated $1.4 billion to meet stockholder expectations.
  • Main player: CEO Richard Scrushy.
  • How he did it: Allegedly told underlings to make up numbers and transactions from 1996-2003.
  • How he got caught: Sold $75 million in stock a day before the company posted a huge loss, triggering SEC suspicions.
  • Penalties: Scrushy was acquitted of all 36 counts of accounting fraud, but convicted of bribing the governor of Alabama, leading to a 7-year prison sentence.
  • Fun fact: Scrushy now works as a motivational speaker and maintains his innocence.

Freddie Mac (2003)

  • Company: Federally backed mortgage-financing giant.
  • What happened: $5 billion in earnings were misstated.
  • Main players: President/COO David Glenn, Chairman/CEO Leland Brendsel, ex-CFO Vaughn Clarke, former senior VPs Robert Dean and Nazir Dossani.
  • How they did it: Intentionally misstated and understated earnings on the books.
  • How they got caught: An SEC investigation.
  • Penalties: $125 million in fines and the firing of Glenn, Clarke and Brendsel.
  • Fun fact: 1 year later, the other federally backed mortgage financing company, Fannie Mae, was caught in an equally stunning accounting scandal.

American International Group (AIG) Scandal (2005)

  • Company: Multinational insurance corporation.
  • What happened: Massive accounting fraud to the tune of $3.9 billion was alleged, along with bid-rigging and stock price manipulation.
  • Main player: CEO Hank Greenberg.
  • How he did it: Allegedly booked loans as revenue, steered clients to insurers with whom AIG had payoff agreements, and told traders to inflate AIG stock price.
  • How he got caught: SEC regulator investigations, possibly tipped off by a whistleblower.
  • Penalties: Settled with the SEC for $10 million in 2003 and $1.64 billion in 2006, with a Louisiana pension fund for $115 million, and with 3 Ohio pension funds for $725 million. Greenberg was fired, but has faced no criminal charges.
  • Fun fact: After posting the largest quarterly corporate loss in history in 2008 ($61.7 billion) and getting bailed out with taxpayer dollars, AIG execs rewarded themselves with over $165 million in bonuses.

Lehman Brothers Scandal (2008)

  • Company: Global financial services firm.
  • What happened: Hid over $50 billion in loans disguised as sales.
  • Main players: Lehman executives and the company's auditors, Ernst & Young.
  • How they did it: Allegedly sold toxic assets to Cayman Island banks with the understanding that they would be bought back eventually. Created the impression Lehman had $50 billion more cash and $50 billion less in toxic assets than it really did.
  • How they got caught: Went bankrupt.
  • Penalties: Forced into the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. SEC didn't prosecute due to lack of evidence.
  • Fun fact: In 2007 Lehman Brothers was ranked the #1 "Most Admired Securities Firm" by Fortune Magazine.

Bernie Madoff Scandal (2008)

  • Company: Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC was a Wall Street investment firm founded by Madoff.
  • What happened: Tricked investors out of $64.8 billion through the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
  • Main players: Bernie Madoff, his accountant, David Friehling, and Frank DiPascalli.
  • How they did it: Investors were paid returns out of their own money or that of other investors rather than from profits.
  • How they got caught: Madoff told his sons about his scheme and they reported him to the SEC. He was arrested the next day.
  • Penalties: 150 years in prison for Madoff + $170 billion restitution. Prison time for Friehling and DiPascalli.
  • Fun fact: Madoff's fraud was revealed just months after the 2008 U.S. financial collapse.

Satyam Scandal (2009)

  • Company: Indian IT services and back-office accounting firm.
  • What happened: Falsely boosted revenue by $1.5 billion.
  • Main player: Founder/Chairman Ramalinga Raju.
  • How he did it: Falsified revenues, margins and cash balances to the tune of 50 billion rupees.
  • How he got caught: Admitted the fraud in a letter to the company's board of directors.
  • Penalties: Raju and his brother charged with breach of trust, conspiracy, cheating and falsification of records. Released after the Central Bureau of Investigation failed to file charges on time.
  • Fun fact: In 2011 Ramalinga Raju's wife published a book of his existentialist, free-verse poetry.


accounting scandals