May 24, 2004

More on Third-Party Liability Continuing

Continuing my train of thought from Friday’s blog, look at this 8-K filed by PepsiCo on April 30th under Item 5 that contains a press release announcing that its Frito-Lay subsidiary had received a Wells letter from the SEC alleging involvement by a non-executive employee with documents supposedly used by Kmart in allegedly improper accounting. The SEC claims that a non-executive employee at Pepsi and another at Frito-Lay signed documents in early 2001 prepared by Kmart acknowledging payments in the amount of $3.0 million from Pepsi and $2.8 million from Frito-Lay. Kmart allegedly used these documents to improperly record the timing of revenue from these businesses. There is no claim that Pepsi’s management was involved nor that Pepsi engaged in any improper accounting.

This development lends more credence to the view that third-party liability is an increasingly important topic for the SEC’s enforcement staff, particularly in the food and grocery industries.

Other companies have filed 8-Ks regarding Wells notices and third-parties. For example, back on January 8th, IBM filed a 8-K regarding a Wells notice it received regarding Dollar General Corporation, a customer of IBM’s point-of-sale products. The SEC believes IBM may have aided and abetted Dollar General when it misstated financial results in the fourth fiscal quarter of 2000. The questionable ransaction concerned IBM’s payment of $11 million to Dollar General for used equipment as part of a sale of IBM replacement equipment. IBM disclosed that one of its employees also received a Wells notice.

For those that are not steeped in enforcement matters, the SEC sends a Wells notice to a company or an individual after its staff has completed an investigation and determined that sufficient wrongdoing has occurred to warrant charges to be filed. Under the SEC’s procedures, the recipient then has the opportunity to respond to the staff before it makes a recommendation to the Commissioners regarding whether any formal action should be brought against the recipient.

Learn more about the enforcement process – including when disclosure about an investigation is necessary – in our FAQs posted in the SEC Enforcement Practice Area.

Carl Speaks on Shareholders Agreements

Don’t forget to check out the May installment of Carl’s Corner, where Carl Schneider discusses shareholder agreements.