Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Please know that the question is under the pdf named question. Please use references in that pdf to answer questions.? The Case study is the pdf Winstar Communications case study 1, | Wridemy

Please know that the question is under the pdf named question. Please use references in that pdf to answer questions.? The Case study is the pdf Winstar Communications case study 1,

Please know that the question is under the pdf named question. Please use references in that pdf to answer questions.? The Case study is the pdf Winstar Communications case study 1,

Please know that the question is under the pdf named question. Please use references in that pdf to answer questions. 

The Case study is the pdf Winstar Communications case study 1, but also take into consideration Winstar Communications Court opinion 2. 

The other two pdf are for reference. 

The CASE Journal Winstar Communications: corporate fraud and auditing procedures Alexander W. Ng Lasse Mertins Charles L. Martin

Article information: To cite this document: Alexander W. Ng Lasse Mertins Charles L. Martin , (2015)," Winstar Communications: corporate fraud and auditing procedures ", The CASE Journal, Vol. 11 Iss 2 pp. 147 – 162 Permanent link to this document: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/TCJ-07-2014-0053

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Winstar Communications: corporate fraud and auditing procedures

Alexander W. Ng, Lasse Mertins and Charles L. Martin

Alexander W. Ng is an Auditor at Metro Metro & Associates, Olney, Maryland, USA. Dr Lasse Mertins is an Assistant Professor at The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Charles L. Martin is Professor of Accounting at the Towson University, Townson, Maryland, USA.

Accounting scandals in the early 2000s

Several accounting scandals shattered trust in the business world in the early 2000s. The most prominent scandals were Enron and Worldcom in 2001 and 2002. These two scandals became so well known because of the size of these companies. At that time, no one would have thought that such enormous companies could end up in bankruptcy. Nonetheless, during that time, other telecom companies struggled financially too. However, their stories never received the same amount of publicity because they were significantly smaller than Enron and Worldcom. This case is about a telecom company that did not survive the telecom bubble: Winstar Communications[1]. In contrast to the Enron scandal (which was audited by Arthur Andersen and led to the collapse of the renowned accounting firm), Winstar’s auditing firm Grant Thornton still exists today. This case describes the relationship between Winstar and Grant Thornton in the year prior to its bankruptcy.

The telecommunication industry in the 1990s and early 2000s

The telecommunications market grew slowly in the early 1990s. A few large telecommunication companies dominated the market and competition barely existed (Carbone, 2006) Moreover, the telecommunication industry was strongly regulated at that time; therefore, it was difficult for new companies to enter the market and compete with established corporations. This environment changed completely in the mid-1990s for three reasons: the Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted several regulations which led to an increase in competition in this industry and allowed companies to offer a larger variety of services; the development of the internet revolutionized the telecommunication industry, offering opportunities that did not exist before; and wireless communication became more popular throughout the 1990s. While a cell phone was considered a luxury item in the early 1990s, it developed into a commodity by the end of the decade. During this time period, many new, rapidly growing companies entered the telecommunication industry. Investors flocked to this industry because they saw the tremendous opportunities in the Internet and wireless phone markets. The industry peaked in 2000 when it invested almost $140 billion in fixed assets (Carbone, 2006).

The “telecommunication boom” also positively impacted employment in this industry. While employment was stable throughout the first half of the 1990s, about 300,000 jobs were created in the telecommunication industry between 1996 and 2001 (Dautrich, 2004). However, in 2001, this trend changed dramatically. The bursting of the dotcom bubble reduced the need for additional network bandwidth. In addition, a nationwide recession began in 2001. The changing economic environment considerably impacted the telecommunication industry because many telecommunication companies were not yet profitable at that point. They were heavily investing in increasing their infrastructure and did not have the revenues needed to cover these expenses.

Disclaimer. This case is written solely for educational purposes and is not intended to represent successful or unsuccessful managerial decision making. The author/s may have disguised names; financial and other recognizable information to protect confidentiality.

DOI 10.1108/TCJ-07-2014-0053 VOL. 11 NO. 2 2015, pp. 147-162, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1544-9106 j THE CASE JOURNAL j PAGE 147

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Within two years, employment within the telecommunications industry dropped by 200,000 employees (Dautrich, 2004). One of the companies that suffered bankruptcy as a result of the changing economic environment was Winstar Communications.

Winstar Communications

Winstar Communications Inc. (Winstar), was founded in 1993 and grew rapidly in the second half of the 1990s (Douglass, 2000). The company began as a long distance reseller[2] and expanded into the business of fixed wireless systems[3] a year after it was founded (Mellow and Rawson, 2003). By early 2000, Winstar had positioned itself as one of the top providers of fixed wireless technology, doing business in 60 US markets and eleven international markets (Douglass, 2000). They utilized a hub and spoke system[4] to provide high-speed access to consumers (Douglass, 2000). In addition, they offered their clients a wide range of voice services, internet access, data transport, web hosting/design, online application hosting and network services (Mello and Rawson, 2003).

Winstar’s operating revenue grew quickly from $19 million in 1996 to $445 million in 1999 (see Figure 1). Winstar employed 3,900 employees in 1999 and its market capitalization was $2.6 billion (Leder, 1999). Many investors believed in the success of this company and heavily invested in Winstar in the late 1990s, although Winstar had only recorded losses since it became a publicly traded company in 1994. In 1999, Winstar had a total operating loss of $452 million and a Net Loss Applicable to Common Stockholders of almost $700 million (see footnote 5). The losses increased steadily from 1995 to 1999 and were primarily a result of the company’s large investments in increasing their network and infrastructure (Leder, 1999). Because of the increasing losses, Winstar’s management was forced to find ways to become profitable in the long run. The failure to stop the ongoing trend of accumulating more and more debt motivated Winstar managers to apply earnings management techniques that were not in compliance with US GAAP. Nonetheless, these fraudulent activities did not prevent Winstar from running out of liquidity.

Despite the early success, Winstar’s share price declined to just 14 cents on April 15, 2001. Three days later, on April 18, 2001, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company was unable to generate enough revenue to cover their enormous debt. Major investors such as Allianz SE funds and Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. lost more than $1 billion as a result of Winstar’s bankruptcy in 2001 (Stempel, 2012).

Strategic alliances

Winstar also focused on strategic partnerships with established corporations, including CBS, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft, Williams and MFN, and Wam!Net (Mello and Rawson, 2002). For example, Winstar worked with CBS and Microsoft to provide software content to consumers

Figure 1 Winstar’s operating revenue growth (1996-1999)

1996 1997 1998 Year

O p e ra

tin g R

e ve

n u e

(i n ’o

o o )

Operating Revenue Growth Winstar (1996-1999)

1999 0

100,000

200,000

300,000

400,000

500,000

Source: Based on Winstar’s (1999) 10-K

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through wireless technologies. The strategic alliance with Wam!Net aimed to deliver a package containing broadband access and business content/applications to acquire more businesses as customers. Nonetheless, Winstar’s most significant alliance was their partnership with Lucent Technologies. Lucent Technologies was not only a key supplier for Winstar and partnered in resale activities, but they also helped Winstar finance their network. Before Winstar filed for bankruptcy, Winstar owed Lucent Technologies around $700 million in loans and was about $75 million behind in interest payments. Because Lucent Technologies cancelled their five-year financing agreement with Winstar, Winstar was forced to declare bankruptcy. Winstar later blamed Lucent Technology for breaking their financing agreement, which eventually led to their insolvency (Reuters News Agency, 2001).

The dot-com bubble and its impact on Winstar

Winstar entered the market at a time of extreme economic growth. According to The New York Times, “Venture capital firms were throwing money at any and all dot-coms to help them build market share, never mind whether they could ever be profitable. It was a brave new era, in which more than a dozen fledging dot-coms that nobody had ever heard of could pay $2 million of other people’s money for a Super Bowl commercial” (The New York Times, 2000). In 1995, the internet started to become a commercial product for the masses. The internet required services that were provided by Winstar. Investors saw the indefinite opportunities that this new medium presented and heavily invested in the expansion of its infrastructure. However, by the end of the millennium, the tide started to turn. The revenues in the industry did not live up to the expectations and through 1999 and early 2000, the US Federal Reserve increased interest rates sixfold (Federal Reserve, 2010). This significantly reduced capital investment in the market. It became harder and harder for companies to survive without a continuous flow of new capital. In the early 2000s, the technology market (NASDAQ) lost 78 percent of its value (Beattie, 2002). This extreme decline in investment and market value put a large strain on Winstar’s liquidity and financial standing.

Audit relationship with Grant Thornton

Winstar’s audit engagement with Grant Thornton began in 1994 and went through April, 2001, the month that Winstar filed for Bankruptcy (United States Court of Appeals, 2012). During that time, Winstar was one of Grant Thornton’s largest clients. However, the relationship between Winstar and Grant Thornton was not always without complications. Toward the end of Winstar’s operations in 1999, Winstar’s management expressed their dissatisfaction with Grant Thornton’s services and threatened to terminate its relationship with Grant Thornton. During that time Grant Thornton’s primary revenue stream from Winstar was not from its auditing services ($275,000) but from its consulting services ($2,000,000). Because of the large consulting contract, Winstar was one of the most important clients for Grant Thornton at that time. Grant Thornton subsequently re-staffed the Winstar audit team in 1999 by including a partner and a senior manager that never before conducted an audit in the telecommunication industry (United States Court of Appeals, 2012). A timeline of events regarding the relationship between Winstar and Grant Thornton is shown in Table I[5].

The audit in 1999[6]

In the audit of the 1999 fiscal year, the auditors identified multiple red flags throughout the audit, but eventually issued an unqualified opinion (Stempel, 2012; United States Court of Appeals, 2012). The first area of concern stemmed from six unusual sales transactions in the end of the fiscal quarter. For example, on September 30, 1999, Winstar recorded a $15 million sale of Lucent Technologies equipment to Anixter Brothers, a supplier of wires and cables. This transaction should have drawn attention because: Winstar was usually not involved in transactions between Anixter Brothers and Lucent Technologies; Winstar generally did not sell equipment; the documentation of the transaction was lacking; and none of the employees of Lucent Technologies, Winstar Communications or Anixter Brothers who were asked about the sale could remember these sales transactions. The only documentation for the $15 million transaction was a purchase order from Winstar to Lucent Technologies and an invoice from

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Lucent Technologies to Winstar, neither of which detailed the items sold or the shipping terms. Finally, there were five additional transactions worth $49.7 million that were atypical for Winstar’s business. All of them were recorded near quarter end, and lacked detailed documentation.

Grant Thornton did attempt to obtain third party evidence to support these transactions, but never received the requested documentation. Nonetheless, the auditors issued an unqualified opinion. Together, these six transactions allowed Winstar to record nearly $65 million of revenue in 1999 alone.

The second set of transactions under scrutiny involved revenue recognition from two IRU (“indefeasible rights of use”) contracts with Wam!Net and Cignal. These contracts dealt with leasing/sub-leasing fiber optic network capacity. Grant Thornton approved to separate the revenue from optical equipment from the revenue associated with the fiber optic cable. After these transactions became known, a forensic accountant came to the conclusion that this separation was incorrect according to FASB and SEC rules. Winstar would later admit that the two were not separable and that no other telecommunications company had used this accounting method before. Furthermore, Grant Thornton later admitted to knowing that revenue from these contracts could only be recognized if the leased circuit was active; many of the circuits were not active in the third and fourth quarter of 1999 and thus the revenue should not have been recognized, regardless of the method. Grant Thornton sent out letters to Wam!Net and Cignal to confirm the delivery and acceptance of the circuits. While Cignal confirmed the delivery and acceptance of the circuits, Wam!Net first responded that the circuits had not yet been installed, but later on, another Wam!Net employee amended the letter by stating that the circuits were actually operational. Despite this confusion, Grant Thornton did not seem to further elaborate on this matter and decided to recognize the revenue (although there was some evidence that suggested that Grant Thornton knew that the IRU circuits at Cignal were not in use). It seemed that Grant Thornton did not conduct a thorough investigation whether the circuits at Wam!Net and Cignal were functional and in use. Regardless, this revenue recognition method was used and the revenue recorded, allowing Winstar to record nearly $31 million in revenue on these

Table I Winstar’s timeline of events

Year Events

1993 Founded as a reseller of long distance phone services in New York City, NY 1994 Initial public offering (listed on NASDAQ)

Increased service portfolio by offering wireless broadband services. Rapid sales growth follows Grant Thornton becomes the independent auditor for Winstar. Their audit relationship lasts until Winstar declares bankruptcy in 2001

1999 The relationship between Grant Thornton and Winstar worsens. Winstar is unsatisfied with Grant Thornton’s work in the international tax planning area and with other accounting services. Although these consulting services are independent from the auditing services, a board member raises concerns to the other board members about Grant Thornton’s auditing team As a result, Grant Thornton re-staffs the auditing team for Winstar with a new audit partner and a senior manager. Neither auditor has any experience with companies from the telecommunication industry Grant Thornton provides auditing service ($275,000) and consulting services to Winstar ($2,000,000). Winstar is one of Grant Thornton’s largest clients Winstar employs 3,900 employees and has yearly revenue of $445.6 million

2000 During the audit of Winstar’s 1999 fiscal year, the auditors detect questionable revenue recognition techniques and “round-trip” transactions, but still issue an unqualified audit opinion. Investors will later claim that Grant Thornton ignored obvious signs of fraudulent activities In March 2000, the price per share is $60

2001 By April 2001, the price per share has fallen to $0.14 In April 2001, Winstar files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (reorganization)

2002 In January 2002, Winstar files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation) 2010 In September 2010, a Manhattan federal judge dismisses investors’ claims against Grant Thornton 2012 In July 2012, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed the September 2010 decision. Therefore, investors may

again sue Grant Thornton to receive compensation for their losses in the Winstar case

Notes: Definition by the AICPA: “Unqualified opinion. An unqualified opinion states that the financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position, results of operations, and cash flows of the entity in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. This is the opinion ex-pressed in the standard report discussed in paragraph” (AICPA: AU Section 504 – Reports on Audited Financial Statements, p. 597)

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contracts up front. A similar bifurcated accounting approach was used again when Winstar sold radios worth $10 million to Lucent. Winstar recognized revenue for this transaction as soon as the radios were delivered; not when they were installed. Despite questioning the appropriateness of recognizing revenue up front, Grant Thornton approved this method.

Another group of transactions questioned by Grant Thornton were “round-trip” transactions: transactions in which one company sells a product to another company for cash and then that company sells an equivalent product back to the initial company for a similar price. This allows both companies to recognize revenue from the sales without any significant economic substance (Basile, n.d.). Winstar carried out “round-trip” transactions with both Cignal (a fiber-optic data- communications company) and Wam!Net (a content management and delivery service provider) which resulted in Winstar overpaying for goods and services in exchange for the other companies’ purchase of fiber optic network capacity, equipment and services. Winstar recognized about $39 million in revenue in 1999 from Cignal and $19.6 million in revenue from Wam!Net in that year’s fourth quarter. Winstar then proceeded to pay Cignal $29.5 million and $4.8 million in late 1999 and early 2000, respectively, under a contract separate from that in which they recognized the $39 million in revenue. Similarly, Winstar paid Wam!Net $25 million for “prepaid marketing” and the lease of a “data service center”; amounts that seemed to be high for these types of services. These large transactions occurred at a time in which both Cignal and Wam!Net were in financial trouble. Despite these issues, Grant Thornton issued Winstar an unqualified opinion on February 10, 2000.

In summary, these transactions had a significant impact on Winstar’s financial statements. The inappropriate recognition of revenue significantly increased Winstar’s total revenues. This eventually led to a smaller Net Loss. Investors that used this income statement to evaluate Winstar’s financial situation and performance were misled by these fraudulent transactions. The company seemed to be in a better financial state, based on its financial statements, than it actually was. If Grant Thornton had made adjustments to properly state Winstar’s revenue, many investors would have likely avoided investing in the failing company and would not have incurred the large losses resulting from Winstar’s bankruptcy.

In hindsight, the need for additional audit procedures seems obvious. However, Grant Thornton had just re-staffed the audit team. The partner and senior manager had no experience in this complex industry. They were put in a position where time was not in excess and where they were under pressure to get the audit completed. The question remains whether this audit failure was a sincere mistake made under harsh circumstances or whether it was an intentional or reckless act.

Court ruling

As the case docket states, “In September 2010 the District Court granted [Grant Thornton’s] motion for summary judgment, concluding that (1) the Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to whether [Grant Thornton] acted intentionally or recklessly, as required under Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, and (2) the Jefferson Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that such a dispute existed as to whether they actually relied on [Grant Thornton’s] audit opinion letter, as required under Section 18 of the Exchange [*24] Act” (United States Court of Appeals, 2012, p. 7). However, a 2012 appeal got the district court’s summary judgment overturned (Stempel, 2012). According to a Reuters news article, “The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York said a lower court was wrong to dismiss claims that Grant Thornton deliberately ignored signs of fraud at Winstar Communications Inc, one of its largest clients, when vetting its financial statements for the 1999 fiscal year” (Stempel, 2012). In March 2013, a New York federal court judge granted class certification to Winstar investors that purchased company stock between March 2000 and April 2001. Therefore, the investors that purchased Winstar shares during this time period could take legal action against Grant Thornton and receive compensation for their Winstar investment losses.

In summary, the investors are still trying to receive compensation for their investment losses from 2001. It is difficult to prove in this case whether the audit firm deliberately ignored signs of fraudulent activities or just underestimated the consequences of such activities. The auditors in the audit engagement were new to this client, and it may have been difficult for them to

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understand all processes in this complex industry. Nonetheless, it was Grant Thornton’s responsibility to examine Winstar’s financial statements and make sure that there were no material misstatements. The questions remain: Were the signs of fraudulent activities obvious at the time when they occurred and should have Grant Thornton be more suspicious of questionable transactions that took place in 1999? Did Grant Thornton follow the appropriate audit procedures?

Notes

1. Based on Gould v. Grant Thornton LLP 10-4028-cv(L) (United States Court of Appeals, 2012).

2. A long distance reseller is a “company that purchases blocks of long-distance telephone service in bulk at a reduced price and then sells the long-distance to consumers at a rate below that which they would normally pay” (page 190; “Call Centre” by S. Pankaj, APH Publishing Corporation: New Delhi, India).

3. “Fixed wireless refers to wireless devices or systems that are situated in fixed locations, such as an office or home, as opposed to devices that are mobile, such as cell phones and PDAs. Fixed wireless devices normally derive their electrical power from utility mains, as opposed to portable wireless devices that normally derive their power from batteries.” Definition from Webopedia (www.webopedia.com/TERM/F/ fixed_wireless.html, accessed September 3, 2013).

4. “The hub-and-spoke distribution paradigm (or model or network) is a system of connections arranged like a chariot wheel, in which all traffic moves along spokes connected to the hub at the center. The model is commonly used in industry, in particular in transport, telecommunications and freight, as well as in distributed computing.” Definition from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoke-hub_distribution_ paradigm, accessed September 3, 2013).

5. Mainly based on information provided in the Gould v. Grant Thornton court case (United States Court of Appeals, 2012).

6. The information about this audit was extracted from the Gould v. Grant Thornton court case (United States Court of Appeals, 2012).

References

Basile, J. (n.d.), “Recognizing the unrecognizable”, Overview of resources, available at: www.revenuere cognition.com/content/experts/8958.asp (accessed December 4, 2012).

Beattie, A. (2002), “Market crashes: the dotcom crash”, Educating the world about finance, available at: www. investopedia.com/ features/crashes/crashes8.asp (accessed December 2, 2012).

Carbone, C. (2006), “Cutting the cord: telecommunications employment shifts toward wireless”, Monthly Labor Review, July, pp. 27-33.

Dautrich, K. (2004), “The changing structure of the telecommunications industry in New Jersey”, paper presented at The Future of the Telecommunications Industry in New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ, December 14.

Douglass, E. (2000), “Fixed wireless systems gaining credibility as phone”, Web Links, LA Times, available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2000/ jan/31/business/fi-59488 (accessed December 1, 2012).

Federal Reserve (2010), “FRB: open market operations”, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, available at: www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/openmarket.htm (accessed December 2, 2012).

Leder, M. (1999), “Investing; assessing a big fish in a fast-growing pond”, New York Times, June 13, available at: www.nytimes.com/1999/06/13/ business/investing-assessing-a-big-fish-in-a-fast-growing-pond.html (accessed September 1, 2013).

Mello, A.S. and Rawson, M. (2003), “Winstar Communications Inc., Financial restructuring in the telecommunications industry”, Social Science Research Network, available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/ papers.cfm?abstract_id ¼ 402120 (accessed February 23, 2013). The New York Times (2000), “The dot-com bubble bursts”, The New York Times, available at: www.nytimes. com/2000/12/24/opinion/the-dot-com-bubble-bursts.html (accessed December 2, 2012).

Reuters News Agency (2001), “Winstar files for bankruptcy, Blames Lucent”, Los Angeles Times, available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/19/ business/fi-52855 (accessed September 1, 2013).

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Stempel, J. (2012), Fraud case vs Grant Thornton over telecom audit revived, Reuters, available at: www. reuters.com/article/ 2012/07/19/grantthornton-winstar-decision-idUSL2E8IJ7A920120719 (accessed September 1, 2013).

United States Court of Appeals For The Second Circuit (2012), Gould v. Winstar Communications Inc., available at: www.lexisnexis.com.proxy tu.researchport.umd.edu/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui? lni ¼ 564W-0KG1-F04K-J10F&csi ¼ 6320&hl ¼ t&hv ¼ t&hnsd¼ f&hns ¼ t&hgn¼ t&oc¼ 00240&perma ¼ true (accessed December 2, 2012).

About the authors

Alexander Ng is an Auditor with Metro Metro & Associates. His research interests include fraud and technology.

Dr Lasse Mertins, PhD, CMA, is an Assistant Professor at The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. His work has been published in several journals,

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