Bob Greisman had twenty-five years experience as a partner at two accounting firms, Grant Thornton and BDO USA. He was responsible for the Chicago office tax departments of each firm, had firm national management responsibilities, and a large book of client business. Greisman was also active in the AICPA and Illinois CPA Society, wrote for business and tax journals, and spoke at conferences and seminars on various tax issues.
Yet despite all this, in 2009 Greisman was among a number of partners at BDO indicted for his participation in the tax shelter business that the firm conducted from 1999-2003. He pled guilty and entered into a cooperation agreement with the government. After extensive testimony in two lengthy criminal trials over the period of a few years, Bob was sentenced to three months in a federal prison camp, which he completed in December, 2014.
During the late 1980s and 1990s many major banks, law firms, and accounting firms sold sophisticated tax shelters to large corporations and wealthy individuals. From 1998 until 2003, Greisman was asked to participate and ultimately played a leadership role in BDO’s tax shelter practice, a major revenue producer for the firm. By 2003, various types of tax shelters faded into obscurity and those involved in creating them, including Greisman, resumed their normal accounting and tax practices.
However, the federal government believed that those tax shelters not only were aggressive, they were illegal. The U.S. Attorneys Office opened criminal investigations against professionals at KMPG, Ernst & Young, various bank, law firms and accounting firms. One of those firms was BDO.
Ultimately, the government earned mixed results with those prosecutions, with some convictions, acquittals, dismissals for prosecutorial abuse, and a number of guilty pleas by individuals in exchange for reduced sentences. Major accounting firms settled with the government for hundreds of millions of dollars, while Greisman was one of those who chose to plead guilty and cooperate with the government.
As a consequence of the forgoing, Greisman became an unintentional expert in white collar criminal law and the perils that many face when they are CPAs. He has also looked at his case, his actions, and those of others to evaluate how cognitive and psychological flaws trip up decision-making.
The BDO tax shelter case, as difficult as it was, provided a wealth of understanding and knowledge which Greisman wishes to share with audiences in hopes of helping them learn from his experience.
Greisman’s talks are great for CPA firms and society meetings that want to discuss ethics and tax issues. Here are a few of the topics on which he speaks:
- Corporate Culture and Incentives
- Tax Shelters
- Cooperating with Government on Major Tax Cases
- CPA Responsibility and Professional Skepticism
- White Collar Crime Prosecutions
- Business Decision-Making With Criminal Outcomes
Walt’s Take: There are situations in business where there is no criminal intent, yet a crime has been committed. It dates back to ancient Roman law where it was said that “ignorance of the law excuses no one,” but it sure can be confusing. Bob is quite transparent about what he did in helping clients form tax structures that limited liability, while also openly being encouraged to do so by his firm. While not excusing his actions, audiences get a glimpse into the gray areas of ethics and the law. In this case Bob lost his freedom.
See all of our speakers at 500 Pearl Street.