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The Biggest Business Frauds Of The 1990s

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The 1980s saw some astonishing business frauds, as people around the US embraced the "Greed is Good" philosophy.

But the 1990s saw some major crimes committed, millions stolen and jail terms for some of the executives involved.

The frauds involved fake Indonesian gold, false accounting and massive losses for the companies.

READ MORE: The Biggest Business Frauds Of The 1980s

Here are the biggest business frauds of the 1990s.

BCCI Scandal (1991)

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was involved in massive money laundering and other financial crimes.

When the fraud was exposed, the bank collapsed, causing major financial losses for its investors and depositors.

The bank was accused of opening accounts or laundering money for dubious characters including the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Its criminal activity was such intelligence experts renamed it the "Bank of Crooks and Criminals International. "

The investigations into the bank actually started in the mid-1980s, where a U.S Customs operation discovered deposits from drug traffickers and money launderers.

A six month trial was held in 1990, which led to the bank admitting respondeat superior, meaning it was responsible for the criminal antics of its clients.

An investigation held by Price WaterHouse Coopers in 1991 was damning.

It found showing BCCI had engaged in "widespread fraud and manipulation" that made it difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct its financial history.

It was deemed to be insolvent and a court in Luxembourg forced it to close in 1991, hitting one million customers.

BCCI paid $10 million in fines and forfeited all $550 million of its American assets

At the time, this was the largest single criminal forfeiture ever obtained by federal prosecutors.

READ MORE: Three Very Strange Lawsuits Which Didn’t Go As Planned

Centennial Technologies Fraud (1996)

Centennial Technologies, a computer components company, was found to have overstated its profits by $40 million.

The CEO, Emanuel Pinez, was convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy.

The SEC brought charges against the company, based in Massachusetts, in 1996.

The scam was carried out between 1994 and 1996, by James Murphy, the company's former CFO, and the CEO Emanuel Pinez.

The two orchestrated a scam to greatly inflate the value of the company and its stock, and then sold it knowing it was based on false information.

The scam included tricks like recognizing revenue from invalid or nonexistent sales, including fake items in their inventory and overvaluing loans and investments.

It led to the company overstating its earnings by around $40 million, including declaring $12 million in profit, when, in fact, it had lost $28 million.

In February 1997, the irregularities were discovered and both Pinez and Murphy were fired.

The fraud also saw the two sell nonexistent products to their friends, including one called "Flash 98".

The company sold $1.5 million's worth of the product to a company owned by Robert Lockwood.

It turned out the money used to buy the fake products had been channelled to the company from Pirez through other intermediate companies.

Pinez eventually admitted one count of securities fraud and was jailed for five years in May 2000.

In 1998, Murphy admitted eight counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

He served 18 months in a halfway house.

Lockwood was also convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and served a two year three month jail sentence.

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Bre-X Minerals Scandal (1997)

Bre-X, a Canadian company, falsely reported it had found a major gold deposit in Indonesia, causing its stock price to soar.

When the fraud was exposed, the company collapsed, leading to significant losses for its investors.

The business was founded in 1988 by David Walsh.

In 1993, it began gold exploration near the Busang River in Indonesia.

The company then began to announce it was finding considerable sums of the precious metal, which led to its share price soaring.

In 1997, an assessment from Freeport-McMoran, a partner in the project, revealed there were only small amounts of gold on the site.

This followed exploration manager Michael de Guzman falling to his death from a helicopter into the Indonesian jungle.

Walsh also died from natural causes at around the same time.

The discovery led to a massive drop in share prices and investors losing billions.

Bre-X was delisted from the stock exchange after the scam was discovered.

The scam was a simple one, with staff using gold dust and gold from jewelry and other mining sites and claiming it was from the Indonesian site.

The only survivor was John Felderhof, Walsh's business partner.

He was acquitted of charges on insider trading in 2007.

READ MORE: The 9 Biggest Business Frauds Of The 1970s

Cendant Corporation Accounting Scandal (1998)

This is another case of a company massively inflating its earnings.

Cendant, a provider of business and consumer services had completed a merger with tax preparation company Jackson Hewitt in 1998.

Shortly after, massive accounting failings were revealed.

Vice chairman E.Kirk Shelton was reported to have increased the company's revenue by $500 million over a three-year period.

He reported a net income of $55.6 million in 1997 when in fact the true result was a £217.2 loss.

An investigation found top executives, including Shelton, had been preparing false statements for several years.

The findings let to a stock crash.

At the time it was the largest case of accounting fraud ever seen in the U.S.

Shelton and Walter Forbes, another top executive, were indicted and sued by the SEC. Shelton was jailed for 10 years, but released after eight for good behaviour.

Forbes was jailed for 12 years in 2007.

Cendant itself was able to bounce back from the scandals and was sold in 2005 and 2006.

Sunbeam Corporation Scandal (1998)

Sunbeam's CEO was known as "chainsaw" Al Dunlap, due to his aggressive restructuring strategies.

He was also found to have been inflating the company's profits to boost its stock prices.

Dunlap took over as chairman and CEO of Sunbeam - a firm making electrical household items - in 1996.

Record earnings of $189 million were reported in 1997.

Sunbeam began to acquire other companies and its stock rose by nine percent.

However, industry insiders were becoming suspicious about what was being sold.

For example, there were large numbers of barbecue grills sold in the last quarter of the year.

In fact, Dunlap had been selling products for large discounts to retailers.

He was using the "bill and hold" technique.

The technique is accepted as long as the sales are booked after the items are delivered.

However, Dunlap was booking the sales straight away.

Many of the company's shareholders felt they had been duped into buying stock that was worth far less than it actually was.

This led to a lawsuit against Dunlap and Sunbeam.

The second half of 1998 saw an investigation into Dunlap and aggressive accounting practices and extreme discounting.

It turned out Dunlap had sold retailers far more of Sunbeam's stock than they could handle.

READ MORE: Rita Crundwell Embezzled £53 Million To Fund Lavish Lifestyle

As a result, unsold inventory piled up in its warehouses.

They faced $60 million losses in the second quarter of 1998.

The previous year, the company had been looking for a buyer, which meant the scandal would've been revealed after the sale had closed.

Dunlap was fired in 1998.

The board felt he had decided them over Sunbeam's numbers and intended to hold off a $35 million "golden parachute" payment.

Legal action came from the SEC in 200, alleging Dunlap had carried out a massive accounting fraud.

It found Dunlap and other executives had created the impression of a bigger loss in 1996 to make it look like the company had carried out a huge turnaround in 1997.

The SEC estimated around $60 million of the 1997 earnings were fraudulent.

Sunbeam never recovered and went bankrupt in 2002.

A shareholder lawsuit against Dunlap ended in 2002 when he agreed to pay $15 million to settle the damages.

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Waste Management Scandal (1998)

"The largest accounting fraud in U.S history at the time" has featured a few times in this article, and here's another one.

This is Waste Management Inc. and a whopping $1.7 billion accounting scandal.

The crimes took place between 1992 and 1997.

The company offered environmental services to around 20 million customers in America, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Senior officers began to carry out fraudulent accounting activities involving the company's books.

One was to avoid depreciation expenses by assigning and inflating salvage values and extending the useful lives of the garbage trucks the company owned.

Officers also didn't record expenses for the value of landfill.

This meant the accounts would state fewer expenses for the company, when in reality, there should have been more added.

The SEC found the company’s owner and former CEO, Dean L Buntrock, guilty.

Several other executives were also found guilty.

The SEC also fined Waste Management’s auditors, Arthur Andersen, over $7 million.

Waste Management eventually settled a shareholder class-action suit for $457 million.

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