Accountants Payable ?

Convicted con man Ben Friedman tells Phoenix accounting big shots Leonard Miller and Carlos Wagner to check their balance

Maricopa County Attorney spokesman Bill FitzGerald, who would only speak in hypotheticals, adds, "When people bring us check stubs and things of that nature, to go back and corroborate what the stubs would say on them is really difficult because banks have destruction schedules for old records that are in the five-year period of time."

In other words, it was too little, too late.

Roger Brown--the CPA hired by the criminal court to review Friedman's case from a restitution viewpoint--is shocked that the authorities aren't taking Friedman up on his offer to rat out Leonard Miller and Carlos Wagner.

"The argument that you can't trust Mr. Friedman because he's a convicted felon goes against everything the Attorney General's Office does," Brown says. "They rely on convicted felons daily. That's the game. The game is you get 'em to plead guilty and then have 'em turn."

As for the available evidence, Brown admits he's not a lawyer, but says, "From an accounting standpoint, you see Mr. Friedman's allegation that Miller-Wagner went out and sold these partnerships, brought the money in to him . . . and then you see checks going to Miller-Wagner."

And in Brown's mind, "It would be almost herculean for Mr. Friedman to have manufactured this evidence."

But the Attorney General's Office has made its decision.
Miller-Wagner and Co. has settled a civil suit. It would seem that the firm doesn't have to worry about prosecution. That leaves it to the rules of the state's Board of Accountancy.

According to the board's rules, accountants are prohibited from taking referral fees or commissions for steering clients toward investment possibilities like Ben Friedman's limited partnerships. The offense can result in disciplinary action up to and including suspension or revocation of the certificate to practice.

In addition, Brown says, the accountant has a fiduciary role to protect his client. If the accountant is taking large (10 to 15 percent) cuts of profits made on straw deals that suckered in his own clients, he is not protecting the client.

To this day, Ben Friedman doesn't understand what the big deal is. If the market hadn't crashed, everyone would be happy--and no one would have been after him.

"Everybody was paying finder's fees, and everybody was paying CPA firms. It's just that the Department of Revenue picked on me," he says, his watery eyes and whiny voice detracting from any sympathy he may conjure. "No, I didn't do anything unusual. This wasn't something ingenious that nobody else had thought of."

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

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