Archive for Friday, May 17, 2002

FBI probe targets Kmart

May 17, 2002


— The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reviewing Kmart Corp. documents as part of an investigation into possible criminal violations at the bankrupt company.

The investigation is one more hurdle for the discount retail giant. Kmart posted a loss of $2.42 billion for the 2001 fiscal year in a filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which also is looking into Kmart's accounting.

"All I can tell you is we are looking at the situation with Kmart to see if there are any criminal violations," FBI Special Agent Dawn Clenney said Thursday. "We have to have some time to review documents."

Kmart spokesman Jack Ferry said the company was notified of the FBI investigation earlier this year.

"Kmart is cooperating fully with the FBI," he said, and declined to comment further.

The SEC is under increased pressure to investigate criminal wrongdoing in bankruptcy cases in the wake of Enron Corp.'s collapse, said Jerry Reisman, a corporate fraud expert with the law firm Peirez and Reisman in New Jersey. Reisman said it's uncommon for the FBI to get involved in SEC investigations when the business is as large as Kmart.

"The change in times predicated by potential criminal activities at Enron have now placed a greater burden on the SEC, the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate criminal wrongdoing at companies of any size," Reisman said.

But he said the reasons for investigating Kmart are likely more than just post-Enron caution.

"It has been reported that Kmart executives may have taken improper loans from the company prior to their leaving the company," Reisman said. "These individuals profited at a time when the shareholders posted great losses."

Kmart paid more than $23 million in executive retention loans between October and its Jan. 22 bankruptcy filing.

A Kmart official said the company is considering trying to recover some of those loans.

The Troy, Mich.-based retailer began reviewing its accounting methods after an anonymous letter, also addressed to the SEC, that claimed to be from employees. The letter was received shortly before the Chapter 11 filing.

Kmart said its accounting review dealt with vendor rebates and general liability reserves. It has amended its previously reported earnings for the first three quarters of 2001 to reflect the new ways it will report vendor discounts.

Kmart shares were down 6 cents Thursday to close at $1.11 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.