A former employee of the U.S. audit regulator drew an eight-month prison term for leaking confidential information to KPMG LLP to help the Big Four firm improve its annual inspection outcome.
Cynthia Holder was sentenced Aug. 9 before Judge J. Paul Oetken of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She avoided a fine, which could have been as high as $150,000. But she’ll have to pay restitution that might amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Holder’s attorneys had sought a sentence of probation, arguing that she played a minor role in the test cheating scheme that involved multiple former KPMG and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board employees.
Holder apologized to the court, expressed regret, and said she hopes “to earn back a place in society,” as 10 of her friends and family members looked on in the courtroom.
Oetken said he faced an unusual case. Holder hadn’t gained financially, but had committed a serious crime involving a knowing “corruption of the regulatory process” set up by Congress to “audit the auditors,” he said.
Holder, 53, of Houston, pleaded guilty in October to federal charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government. She was one of several former PCAOB employees who joined KPMG and then helped funnel details about the board’s inspection plans to firm leaders. The firm, prosecutors said, used that information to revisit those audits, making changes and improvements in an attempt to boost the outcome of its 2016 PCAOB inspection.
Holder’s sentence was significantly lighter than the 41 months to 51 months suggested by federal guidelines. Oetken said he considered her remorse for her actions and her character as demonstrated in letters from family and friends.
For an accountant, Oetken said, “the mere fact of her conviction alone will have a significant effect” on her life. Still, he said that a prison sentence was necessary to deter similar efforts to interfere with the PCAOB’s work.
The judge said he accepted the PCAOB’s claim of $829,863 in employee time lost responding to the leaks—following an Aug. 1 hearing on the loss amount—which also factored into her sentence.
Her attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.
The judge ordered her to surrender to authorities in October and said he’d recommend that she be assigned to a correctional facility in Texas to be close to her family.
Prior to joining the firm, Holder was an inspections director at the PCAOB, and her work involved overseeing KPMG’s work, prosecutors have said.
KPMG admitted as part of a $50 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that former staff members conspired to cheat on the firm’s annual regulatory inspection.
In response, the firm has replaced four leaders at the top of the audit practice; added independent directors to its governing board; and moved its internal inspections group outside the audit practice, among other reforms.
Three of Holder’s co-defendants await sentencing and a fourth is set to go on trial this fall.
The case is U.S. v. Middendorf, S.D.N.Y., No. 18-cr-36, sentencing 8/9/19 .
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(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)