Foss Trustee Goes After Auditors

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Claims Firm Violated Practices

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, February 19, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- The trustee for the bankrupt estate of Foss Manufacturing is now going after the auditors who signed off on the allegedly cooked books that enabled former officials to loot the company.

The trustee recently filed a complaint in bankruptcy court against the company's former auditors Bernard Johnson Company of Topsfield, Mass.

The suit also names the firm's partner David Bernard and Julie Couto, who oversaw the audit of Foss. According to the complaint, the firm violated numerous accounting practices by "deliberately shutting their eyes to countless red flags."

The Hampton-based company filed for bankruptcy in September 2005. The company's assets and name has since been sold and is under new ownership.

Creditors have already filed suit against former officials including former CEO Stephen Foss alleging he looted the company and along with CFO Kevin Sexton fixed the books to hide the company's financial problems.

Creditors are trying to recuperate some of the money they lost that is owed to them due to the maleficence.

The creditors' suit, filed in June 2006, alleges, among other things, Foss used company money to pay out $3.7 million in illegal dividends, excessive compensation and improvements on the family's homes while the company was going broke.

It also alleges several company officials aided Foss and that the company's board of directors failed to live up to its fiduciary duties by keeping a watchful eye over the company.

The trustee's suit against the auditing firm claims it should have been aware of the fraud since it conducted audits for the company for the last four years.

In each of the audits conducted, the firm said the "financial integrity of the company was sound" when in fact it was not. The complaint states the firm overlooked or took a blind eye to signs of fraud and never fully conducted a "fraud risk assessment."

The creditors also state Bernard Johnson violated accounting practices by not disclosing that he was a sole equity member of Foss Manufacturing LLC, a subsidiary of Foss Manufacturing.

The trustee is requesting that the judge force the firm to give back the $900,000 it received from the company paid for services rendered. The auditing firm has denied any wrongdoing and has asked the judge to dismiss the complaint.

Meanwhile, Foss and other defendants in the creditors' suit are asking a judge to consolidate this case with their own citing it's based on the same allegations of fraud that they claim is not true. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 27.

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