If you hold a California certified public accountant (CPA) license and are currently facing a complaint or statement of issues against you, it is in your best interests to act as soon as possible and secure the services of an experienced license defense attorney.
The Department of Consumer Affairs' Board of Accountancy takes complaints by consumers and news of criminal charges or convictions pertaining to its licensees very seriously. And they have a number of possible disciplinary actions at their disposal, including license suspension or revocation.
At California License Attorney, we have longtime experience in dealing with the Board of Accountancy. We have successfully defended the licenses and the livelihoods of numerous past CPA clients, and we can do the same for you.
To learn more or for a free consultation, do not hesitate to contact us 24/7 by calling 888-959-0068.
The Valuable Roles of California's CPAs
Keeping one's "financial house" in order is a top priority for every California business, and many of them understand the value of hiring a financial expert to handle their taxes, records, budget, and other financial paperwork.
Businesses of all sizes rely on certified public accountants on a routine basis to keep them legally compliant, fully informed of their financial situation, and in a position to make decisions that will foster future growth in both revenues and client base.
And while to get where you are today, you had to persevere through years of education and training and go through a tedious, expensive licensing process, the unfortunate fact is that it is much easier to lose a CPA license than to gain one.
Many accountants are accused of a host of different financial crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering. The fact that the accountant's very job puts him/her in a position of constant interaction with a business' finances makes it easy for many to assume "the accountant did it." Other times, a simple mistake with no ill intent whatsoever can be used to threaten a CPA's license. Or, another situation that can arise is when a disgruntled business owner suggests his CPA was negligent or incompetent as a way to explain his own business failings.
At California License Attorney, we understand and appreciate the roles that our state's certified public accountants fill. We also understand how the very nature of your work puts your license and your career at constant risk. We are not here to judge you for a past mistake, and we also realize that many allegations against CPAs are false or badly exaggerated. But we are here to defend you and your license and to win you the best possible outcome, regardless of the nature of the complaint or of the potential disciplinary actions you are threatened with.
The Mission of the California Board of Accountancy
The California Board of Accountancy issues licenses of four kinds: certified public accountant, accounting firm, accounting corporation, and accounting partnership. The last three are obviously given to businesses while the first is given to individuals.
The board's mission and vision is all centered around protecting the public. They do not exist for the sake of accountants and accountancy corporations but to protect the general public against financial harm and to uphold high standards of professionalism in the industry.
To accomplish that end, Board of Accountancy restricts the issuance of accounting licenses to those only whom they deem qualified and likely to serve the public good. They also monitor the industry to ensure all accountants and firms are in compliance with the California Accountancy Act, the board's own regulations, the Business & Professions Code, and other relevant laws and regulations.
Additionally, the board takes in a steady stream of written complaints and is always alert if they hear of a licensed accountant who is facing criminal charges or who has previously undisclosed criminal convictions on his/her police record.
To enforce its standards, the board has a number of disciplinary options at its disposal, including:
- Denying a new application for an accounting license.
- Issue a letter of public reprimand.
- Issue a citation and accompanying administrative fine.
- Suspend or revoke a license.
- Allow a stay of revocation and license probation.
- File civil or criminal charges in addition to any board discipline.
Examples of violations that can lead to the board taking disciplinary action include:
- Practicing without a license or outside the scope of one's license.
- Gross negligence, ordinary negligence, or incompetence in the performance of one's accounting duties.
- Unprofessional conduct.
- Departing from generally accepted accounting practices.
- Breach of fiduciary duty.
- Aiding and abetting tax evasion.
- Fraud, forgery, embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, and similar "white collar" crimes.
- Having a criminal conviction on your record that is "substantially related to" your duties or qualifications as an accountant.
- Being under discipline by another California agency or by the licensing board of another U.S. state.
Don't underestimate a complaint filed against you. It's true that many complaints are quickly dismissed as "unsubstantiated," but you can never be sure what the board will do. And if a formal accusation is filed against you by the board, it will be publicly posted for all your potential clients and employers to see.
It is best to act quickly after receiving a Notice of Investigation or even on a strong suspicion that someone has filed a complaint against you. The sooner you act, the better your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.
How Criminal Charges Can Affect Your Accountancy License
Many CPAs and others with accountancy licenses in California find themselves, at some point during their career, facing criminal allegations. It is not uncommon for law enforcement, in cooperation with the Attorney General and the Board of Accountancy, to conduct covert "sting" operations to gather evidence.
And besides the criminal trial and possible sentence, those CPAs facing criminal charges can face additional disciplinary measures by the board as well.
The standard is that the misdemeanor or felony must be substantially related to your accountancy practice, but the board takes a "broad view" on what counts as "substantially related."
Examples of crimes that would or might be considered substantially related include:
- DUI or DUID
- Simple Possession of a controlled substance.
- Possession with intent to sell.
- All fraud crimes.
- Tax evasion
- Failure to make proper disclosures
- Domestic violence or sexual assault
That is only a partial list; there are more. And it may seem like there is no way to avoid losing your license when facing these kinds of charges, but many in fact do manage to hold on to their licenses in spite of such allegations. At California License Attorney, we know how to fight back and defend your license in the context of a criminal case being prosecuted against you.
From Complaint to Final Decision: The Process
Complaints are filed, as we have noted, for a variety of reasons and from a variety of sources. And the strength of the complaint at first blush, to the eyes of the Board of Accountancy, also varies greatly. Many complaints will be dropped for lack of solid evidence very early in the process. Others will be investigated for months on end.
On average, it takes around 5 months between the filing of a complaint against a CPA and the final decision being rendered in their case. But it can take much longer in some cases. Therefore, if you have been issued an interim suspension, we will work hard first and foremost to get that overturned so you can continue your practice during the investigation.
In many instances, we can get the complaint dismissed by challenging it strongly and early, avoiding any negative public exposure against your practice. Or, where appropriate, we may be able to negotiate a favorable stipulated settlement that lets you retain your license.
In cases the board deems to have more merit, they will file a formal accusation that will be posted on their public website for consumers to view. At this juncture, we will have a right and an opportunity to respond with a Notice of Defense and to present arguments against the statement of issues involved in the accusation. Here again, many cases end with a dismissal or favorable settlement.
But some cases will move on to a formal administrative hearing. If that is the case, we will prepare meticulously to fight in your best interest at the hearing. We will there have the opportunity to present exculpatory and mitigating evidence in your favor as well as to challenge the evidence of the prosecution.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) presiding over your hearing may hear both aggravating evidence from the prosecution and mitigating evidence from us.
Examples of aggravating factors that could increase the severity of professional discipline are:
- That the violation was willful and premeditated.
- That the licensee has received professional discipline in the past, especially if concerning the same or a similar matter.
- That actual financial harm was done to a client or a consumer.
- That any financial harm was in a relatively high amount.
- That the licensee knew that serious harm could have resulted to another, especially when that person was in a "vulnerable" class.
- The violation involved a misappropriation of funds or a serious breach of the licensee's "fiduciary duties."
- That the licensee secured financial gain to him or her self as a result of the violation.
- That the accountant under investigation did not cooperate with the board or its investigators.
- That one has violated the conditions of license probation for a former offense.
Examples of mitigating factors that could gain a lighter sentence where a dismissal cannot be obtained include:
- No actual harm came to a client, a consumer, or the general public.
- The harm that might have occurred was minimal.
- The violations were unintentional or done on the spur of the moment under heavy pressure.
- There was no serious breach of fiduciary responsibilities.
- The licensee did not secure any actual financial gain from the violation, secured very little, or did not intend to benefit financially from the violation.
- The licensee cooperated with the board and its investigators throughout the investigation.
- Evidence of rehabilitation.
- Remorse on the part of the violator.
- Restitution was already made by the licensee at his/her own initiative.
- The licensee was less culpable than others involved in the same scheme or incident.
- A significant period of time has passed since the violation without any repeat of it or a similar violation.
By arguing these and other mitigating factors, we can often gain a stay of revocation with license probation instead of a revocation or suspension. And we can also fight for a shorter probation period and less restrictive conditions of probation.
We know both how to defeat accusations completely where possible and how to negotiate for the least severe form of discipline possible under the Board of Accountancy's Disciplinary Guidelines.
And finally, we also can assist you in getting a denied license application ultimately approved and in petitioning for a reinstatement of your license if it has already been revoked.
Contact Us Today for Help
At California License Attorney, we stand ready to rush to your assistance with top-tier license defense at a moment's notice. Our team of experienced certified public accountant license defense lawyers have a long track record of securing the best possible outcome to all manner of license defense cases, and we can do the same for you.
If your CPA license and/or professional reputation is at risk, do not hesitate to contact us 24/7/365 at 888-959-0068 for a free consultation and immediate attention to your case.