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Smith & Wesson’s Recent Disclosures

In January, Amaro Goncalves was one of the individuals indicted in the Africa Sting case.

Goncalves is described in the indictment as “the Vice President of Sales for Company A, a United States company headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts. Company A was a world-wide leader in the design and manufacture of firearms, firearm safety/security products, rifles, firearms systems, and accessories. The shares of Company A were publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange.”

Company A is Smith & Wesson, a fact quickly acknowledged by the company in this press release.

I noted in January:

“At present, this case only involves individuals.

However, as indicated by Assistant Attorney General Breuer in yesterday’s DOJ release (here) the investigation is “ongoing” and you can bet that many of the companies which employ these individuals are “lawyering up” as past FCPA enforcement actions demonstrate that corporate enforcement actions or investigations often, but not always, precede or follow individual enforcement actions.”

Indeed, the companies indirectly implicated in the Africa Sting by their employees alleged conduct did “lawyer up.”

Because Smith & Wesson is a public company, the public is provided a better glimpse of how the Africa Sting case is affecting this company compared to the many other companies indirectly implicated – many of which are small, private businesses.

On June 30th, Smith & Wesson reported its Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2010 Financial Results Ended April 30, 2010 (see here). The company release contains this paragraph:

“Operating expenses of $89.1 million, or 21.9% of sales, for fiscal 2010 decreased versus operating expenses of $170.5 million, or 50.9% of sales, for fiscal 2009. Excluding the impact of the impairment charge recorded in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 and $9.7 million of operating expense at USR not contained in prior year results, operating expenses increased $7.1 million for the current fiscal year. This increase included $3.2 million in legal and consulting fees related to allegations against one of our employees under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).”

If nothing more, Amaro Goncalves is probably not on the short-list for employee of the month because of his alleged conduct.

Yesterday, Smith & Wesson filed its annual report (see here). The report contained the following:

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)

On January 19, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) unsealed indictments of 22 individuals from the law enforcement and military equipment industries, one of whom was our Vice President−Sales, International & U.S. Law Enforcement. We were not charged in the indictment. We also were served with a Grand Jury subpoena for the production of documents. We have always taken, and continue to take seriously, our obligation as an industry leader to foster a responsible and ethical culture, which includes adherence to laws and industry regulations in the United States and abroad. Although we are cooperating fully with the DOJ in this matter and have undertaken a comprehensive review of company policies and procedures, the DOJ may determine that we have violated FCPA laws. We cannot predict when this investigation will be completed or its outcome. There could be additional indictments of our company, our officers, or our employees. If the DOJ determines that we violated FCPA laws, or if our employee is convicted of FCPA violations, we may face sanctions, including significant civil and criminal penalties. In addition, we could be prevented from bidding on domestic military and government contracts, and could risk debarment by the U.S. Department of State. We also face increased legal expenses and could see an increase in the cost of doing international business. We could also see private civil litigation arising as a result of the outcome of the investigation. In addition, responding to the investigation may divert the time and attention of our management from normal business operations. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the publicity surrounding the investigation and the potential risks associated with the investigation could negatively impact the perception of our company by investors, customers, and others.

SEC Investigation

Subsequent to the end of fiscal 2010, we received a letter from the staff of the SEC giving notice that the SEC is conducting a non−public, fact−finding inquiry to determine whether there have been any violations of the federal securities laws. It appears this civil inquiry was triggered in part by the DOJ investigation into potential FCPA violations. We have always taken, and continue to take seriously, our obligation as an industry leader to foster a responsible and ethical culture, which includes adherence to laws and industry regulations in the United States and abroad. Although we are cooperating fully with the SEC in this matter, the SEC may determine that we have violated federal securities laws. We cannot predict when this inquiry will be completed or its outcome. If the SEC determines that we have violated federal securities laws, we may face injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill−gotten gains, and sanctions, including fines and penalties, or may be forced to take corrective actions that could increase our costs or otherwise adversely affect our business, results of operations, and liquidity. We also face increased legal expenses and could see an increase in the cost of doing business. We could also see private civil litigation arising as a result of the outcome of this inquiry. In addition, responding to the inquiry may divert the time and attention of our management from normal business operations. Regardless of the outcome of the inquiry, the publicity surrounding the inquiry and the potential risks associated with the inquiry could negatively impact the perception of our company by investors, customers, and others.”

Smith & Wesson’s disclosure is hardly surprising. Anytime a company’s employee is criminally indicted for an FCPA violation, it is reasonable to assume that the DOJ will wonder “who knew what and when” and will seek to discover whether the employee’s alleged conduct is isolated or evidence of broader, more systemic conduct. When that employee is the “Vice President−Sales, International & U.S. Law Enforcement” it is virtually guaranteed that the DOJ will ask such questions.

It is unlikely that Smith & Wesson is the only company implicated in the Africa Sting case under investigation. However, as stated above, because Smith & Wesson is a public company, the public is provided a better glimpse of how the Africa Sting case is affecting this company compared to the many other companies implicated – many of which are small, private businesses. These companies are “domestic concerns” and thus subject to the FCPA, it’s just that FCPA inquiries of non-public companies generate less attention that FCPA inquiries of public companies.

Nor is it surprising that Smith & Wesson disclosed the existence of an SEC investigation.

I noted in January:

“Given that one of the individuals indicted is employed by a public-company issuer, the SEC may also be interested in that company from, at the very least, an FCPA books and records and internal control perspective.”

Even if Smith & Wesson is never charged with violating the FCPA’s antibribery provisions, it is likely that the company could face some exposure under the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions.

The SEC’s analysis would likely be as follows.

Goncalves, if the alleged conduct is true, no doubt, while a Smith & Wesson employee, made entries on the company’s books and records that did not accurately or fairly represent the transactions at issue. That, in and of itself, would be an FCPA books and records violation. Further, the SEC will take the position that if Smith & Wesson had effective internal controls, Goncalves could not have engaged in the conduct he is alleged to have engaged in. If he did, this in and of itself, is evidence that Smith & Wesson lacked effective internal controls.

A bit simplistic, yes. But this is perhaps how the Smith & Wesson inquiry will play out.

A final point.

Smith & Wesson is a supplier to numerous government customers and military installations. Under guidelines issued by the Office of Management and Budget, a person or firm found in violation of the FCPA may be barred from doing business with the Federal government. Add this issue to the list of issues to follow as the Smith & Wesson FCPA inquiry escalates. However, this sanction (to my knowledge) has never been used against an FCPA violator.

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