Four CPAs Who Made History for All the Wrong Reasons

To say Certified Public Accountants manage a company's books is a simplistic view of the profession. Sure, CPAs prepare, maintain and review financial records, but what this description leaves unsaid is that solid accountants can keep organizations out of hot water (while poor or misguided ones sully their clients' good names). Here are four of the most infamous CPAs in the country along with their misdeeds (alleged or otherwise).

Four CPAs Who Made History (for All the Wrong Reasons)

1. David G. Friehling

How does a respectable Ivy League-educated CPA become one of the nation's most infamous accountants? By cooking the books for an elaborate Ponzi scheme. David Friehling served as sole accountant to Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, headed by former NASDAQ chairman Bernard Madoff. During his tenure, Friehling single-handedly serviced Madoff's multi-billion-dollar operation, later penned with fraud charges. It was later revealed that Friehling's work was never peer reviewed, that he falsified audits and that he was not registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. In 2009, he was arrested for, charged with and plead guilty to securities fraud, aiding and abetting investment adviser fraud and multiple counts of filing false audit reports.

2. David Duncan

Some know David Duncan as a partial owner for the Cincinnati Bengals, but CPAs likely remember him for his role in the Enron scandal. A CPA working with power-firm Arthur Anderson, LLP, Duncan was the lead accountant for the embattled Enron during its infamous accounting scandal. In 2002, Duncan was fired from Anderson and charged with obstruction of justice for shredding Enron's financial records. He later withdrew his plea and became a star witness for the prosecution, but his reputation was forever marred.

3. Dan Wise

Dan Wise is a former Arizona-based CPA who reportedly ran a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme between 2001 and 2009. According to the Arizona Society of CPAs, Wise raised more than $67 million from 125 investors after luring them with promises of lucrative annual returns for investments never honored. The Arizona Board of Accountancy revoked Wise's CPA license in December 2009, accusing him of ethics violations and misappropriation of client tax payments.

4. Scott D. Sullivan

When then-CPA Scott Sullivan was awarded the Anniversary Class Award for alumni from his alma mater, State University of New York, in 1998, few would have predicted that he would soon be charged in one of the biggest accounting fraud cases in U.S. history, the WorldCom scandal. He served as Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer, Board member and Secretary to the telecommunications firm and was eventually charged with using fraudulent accounting methods to mask the company's declining earnings. Sullivan eventually served four years of a 10-year term, plus one year of house arrest.

How to Become a CPA (Without a Prison Sentence)

The CPAs above caused quite a stir in their professional circles, but for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully, they are not representative of their fields. Yes, the scandal factor for finance-oriented pros is probably higher than for those working in most other industries, but that is precisely why CPA degree programs (including online CPA degrees) incorporate extensive ethics training. Another silver lining: The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that debacles like those listed above are also the reason demand for accountants is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2010 and 2020 -- stricter laws and regulations have put companies on the hunt for well-trained accountants who can do their books by the book. Even better, CPAs, particularly those with master's degrees, will be in even higher demand than other types of accountants. Online CPA degree programs are a convenient way to get this training, especially for those already working in the field but who want to advance their education on the side. With the right training (and a healthy dose of conscience), you can launch a promising, scandal-free accounting career.

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