Do you rely on representations from attorneys or auditors in your business? Are authentic financial statements necessary to do business? Have you ever looked at documents and wondered if the purported author really created them?
The issue of forged and faked documents came to light in a big way for Merrill Lynch Business Financial Services. In 2004, PITTRA G.B. International allegedly sent Merrill Lynch fake financial statements and forged legal opinion letters in order to secure millions of dollars in financing. The import-export company later went bankrupt, and now there is a lawsuit pending for loan fraud.
The attorney who supposedly authored the legal opinion letters, Ben Becker, says he had nothing to do with them. The letters gave opinions on lawsuits pending against the company applying for the loan. Becker says the signatures weren’t his, that the letterhead was outdated, and that he had absolutely nothing to do with the letters. He knew nothing about their content at the time they were supposedly written by him.
Add to that the fact that the company’s accounting firm says they had nothing to do with the financial statements that were submitted to Merrill Lynch. The name of Amper, Politziner & Mattia appeared on the financial statements, but the accountants say they didn’t prepare them or look at them.
This case highlights the unfortunate need to verify the authenticity of documentation, especially in high-stakes transactions. No longer can we rely on the integrity of those we do business with. And technology has made forgeries easier, as any amateur can use desktop publishing software to recreate a company’s letterhead or copy signatures.