U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Litigation Release No. 19847 / September 27, 2006
Accounting And Auditing Enforcement Release No. 2484 / September 27, 2006
Securities and Exchange Commission v. James N. Stanard, Martin J. Merritt And Michael W. Cash, (S.D.N.Y. Civ. 06 CV 7736 (GEL))
SEC Sues Three Individuals in Accounting Fraud Case
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it filed an enforcement action in federal district court in the Southern District of New York against James N. Stanard and Martin J. Merritt, the former CEO and former controller, respectively, of RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd. (RenRe), and also against Michael W. Cash, a former senior executive of RenRe's wholly-owned subsidiary, Renaissance Reinsurance Ltd. In its complaint filed today, the Commission alleges that Stanard, Merritt, and Cash structured and executed a sham transaction that had no economic substance and no purpose other than to smooth and defer over $26 million of RenRe's earnings from 2001 to 2002 and 2003. In partial settlement of the Commission's claims, without admitting or denying the allegations, Merritt consented to the entry of an antifraud injunction and other relief.
In its complaint, the Commission alleges that Stanard, Merritt and Cash committed fraud in connection with a sham transaction that they concocted to smooth RenRe's earnings. The complaint concerns two seemingly separate, unrelated contracts that were, in fact, intertwined. Together, the contracts created a round trip of cash. In the first contract, RenRe purported to assign at a discount $50 million of recoverables due to RenRe under certain industry loss warranty contracts to Inter-Ocean Reinsurance Company, Ltd. in exchange for $30 million in cash, for a net transfer to Inter-Ocean of $20 million. RenRe recorded income of $30 million upon executing the assignment agreement. The remaining $20 million of its $50 million assignment became part of a "bank" or "cookie jar" that RenRe used in later periods to bolster income.
The second contract was a purported reinsurance agreement with Inter-Ocean that was, in fact, a vehicle to refund to RenRe the $20 million transferred under the assignment agreement plus the purported insurance premium paid under the reinsurance agreement. This reinsurance agreement was a complete sham. Not only was RenRe certain to meet the conditions for coverage; it also would receive back all of the money paid to Inter-Ocean under the agreements plus investment income earned on the money in the interim, less transactional fees and costs.
RenRe accounted for the sham transaction as if it involved a real reinsurance contract that transferred risk from RenRe to Inter-Ocean, when in fact, the complaint alleges, each of these individuals knew that this was not true. Merritt and Stanard also misrepresented or omitted certain key facts about the transaction to RenRe's auditors. As a result of RenRe's accounting treatment for this transaction, RenRe materially understated income in 2001 and materially overstated income in 2002, at which time it made a "claim" under the "reinsurance" agreement. It then received as apparent reinsurance proceeds the funds it had paid to Inter-Ocean and that Inter-Ocean held in a trust for RenRe's benefit.
On Feb. 22, 2005, RenRe issued a press release announcing that it would restate its financial statements for the years ended Dec. 31, 2001, 2002 and 2003. On March 31, 2005, RenRe filed its Form 10-K for the year ended Dec. 31, 2004, which contained restated financial statements for those years. Stanard signed and certified the Form 10-K. Both the press release and the Form 10-K attributed the restatement of the Inter-Ocean transaction to accounting "errors" due to "the timing of the recognition of Inter-Ocean reinsurance recoverables." These statements were misleading. In fact, the transaction contained no real reinsurance and the Company's restated financial statements accounted for the transaction as if it had never occurred. In short, the entire transaction was a sham, and the Company failed to disclose that fact and misrepresented the reasons for the restatement.
The Commission's complaint charges Stanard, Merritt and Cash with securities fraud in violation of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5(a), (b) and (c) of the Exchange Act; with violating the reporting, books-and-records and internal control provisions of Exchange Act Section 13(b)(5) and Rule 13b2-1; and with aiding and abetting RenRe's violations of Exchange Act Sections 10(b), 13(a) and 13(b)(2) and Exchange Act Rules 10b-5(a), (b) and (c), 12b-20, 13a-1 and 13a-13. In addition, the complaint charges Stanard and Merritt with violating Exchange Act Rule 13b2-2 for making materially false statements to RenRe's auditors and charges Stanard with violating Exchange Act Rule 13a-14 for certifying financial statements filed with the Commission that he knew contained materially false and misleading information. The complaint seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, if any, plus prejudgment interest, civil money penalties, and orders barring each defendant from acting as an officer or director of any public company.
Without admitting or denying the allegations in the Commission's complaint, Merritt has consented to a partial final judgment that, upon entry by the court, will permanently enjoin him from violating or aiding or abetting future violations of the securities laws, bar him from serving as an officer or director of a public company, and defer the determination of civil penalties and disgorgement to a later date.
In addition, Merritt has agreed to a Commission administrative order, based on the injunction, barring him from appearing or practicing before the Commission as an accountant, under Rule 102(e) of the Commission's Rules of Practice. Merritt was a certified public accountant licensed to practice in Massachusetts