Miami, Florida - Baton Holdings LLC, as the successor in interest to Bankrate Inc., a financial services and marketing company (Bankrate), has entered into a nonprosecution agreement and agreed to pay $28 million in combined monetary penalties and restitution to resolve the government’s investigation into a complex accounting and securities fraud scheme carried out by former executives of Bankrate.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida and Inspector in Charge Delany DeLeon-Colon of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service made the announcement.
Bankrate admitted in the resolution documents that former executives engaged in a complex scheme to artificially inflate Bankrate’s earnings through so-called “cookie jar” or “cushion” accounting, whereby millions of dollars in unsupported expense accruals were purposefully left on Bankrate’s books and then selectively reversed in later quarters to boost earnings. In addition, Bankrate admitted that former executives misrepresented certain company expenses as “deal costs” in order to artificially inflate publicly reported adjusted earnings metrics, and also made materially false statements to Bankrate’s independent auditors to conceal the improper accounting entries. As a result of the scheme, Bankrate admitted that the fraudulent conduct caused Bankrate’s shareholders to suffer at least $25 million in losses. According to the resolution documents, Red Ventures Holdco LP, which acquired Bankrate in November 2017 after the securities and accounting fraud scheme took place, also agreed to certain terms and obligations under the agreement but had no involvement in the underlying criminal conduct.
“Today’s resolution with Bankrate’s successor in interest—together with the previously announced convictions of the company’s CFO and vice president of finance—closes the books on an accounting fraud that caused more than $25 million in losses to the company’s shareholders,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “This case reflects the Department’s commitment to holding both individuals and institutions accountable for fraudulent conduct, and to obtaining restitution for the victims of fraud.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has an extensive history of investigating complex financial fraud schemes in order to protect investors as well as the integrity of the financial marketplace from fraudulent activities by trusted insiders who abuse their positions,” said Inspector in Charge DeLeon-Colon. “Anyone who engages in this type of financial fraud scheme should know they will be found and they will be held accountable.”
Bankrate Inc.’s former CFO, Edward J. DiMaria, previously pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme and was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida to serve 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $21,234,214 in restitution. Hyunjin Lerner, Bankrate’s former vice president of finance, also previously pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme and was sentenced by Judge Moore to serve 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $21,234,214 in restitution.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Washington, D.C. Division investigated the case. Principal Assistant Chief Henry Van Dyck and Trial Attorneys Emily Scruggs and Jason Covert of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section prosecuted the case, with assistance from the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The SEC also provided assistance in this matter.