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Informix Ex-CEO Sentenced Only Two Months for Securities Fraud

According to The Wall Street Journal, on May 27,2004 Phillip White, former chief executive officer of Informix Corp., was sentenced to onlytwo months in prison for securities fraud.
Mr. White pleaded guilty in December to a charge of filing a false registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1997, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. He admitted that he knew that 1996 financial statements filed with the SEC statement weren't accurate, and should have been restated to reflect a material amount of revenue that should have been reversed.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer also imposed a minimal fine on Mr. White of $10,000, along with a two-year period of supervised release and 300 hours of community service.
Now, this is criminal! While I don't know what was shown to Judge Breyer, White dumped millions (made millions) in this scheme and had a prior history. See this story from the 1999 Edition of the Class Action Reporter. No wonder sercurities fraud is such a low risk, high reward industry!

From C L A S S A C T I O N R E P O R T E R Archives

Tuesday, November 30, 1999, Vol. 1, No. 210

Class Action Reporter is a daily newsletter, co-published by Bankruptcy

Creditors' Service, Inc., Princeton, NJ, and Beard Group, Inc.,

Washington, DC. Theresa Cheuk and Peter A. Chapman, editors.

Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. ISSN 1525-2272.

* Crowe and Others Say Securities Fraud Is Rampant In Silicon Valley


Federal prosecutors say white-collar crime is a priority, but they have

filed only a few charges against Silicon Valley executives. Silicon

Valley is the epicenter of the fastest creation of wealth in history.

But the high-tech miracle has a dark side: untold stories of ruined

investors, betrayed entrepreneurs and regulators who are overmatched and

overwhelmed. Robert Crowe was afraid he wouldn't be ready.

For months, the assistant U.S. attorney had been preparing a securities

fraud case against executives at California Micro Devices, a Milpitas

chip manufacturer. But as the 1998 trial neared, Crowe was inundated

with 600,000 pages of documents and didn't even have a clerk to work the

copy machine.

Meanwhile, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission continued

to bring him promising cases against other Silicon Valley companies. But

Crowe was the only federal prosecutor in San Francisco working full time

on investment fraud, and there was nothing he could do with them. "The

inventory of cases kept building," said Crowe. "I couldn't keep up."

Cal Micro was the first major Silicon Valley fraud case tried by the

U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco. It was also the last -- even

though shareholders have sued more than 60 high-tech companies in

Northern California's federal courts since 1995.

Silicon Valley executives contend that most of the complaints are

frivolous, but Crowe and others say the rising number of class-action

suits shows that fraud is rampant in the high-tech industry. "If they

put together a special federal task force and sent it into the valley,

they could bring a ton of fraud cases," said one senior prosecutor at

the U.S. Department of Justice.

But the U.S. attorney's office has done little to deter securities fraud

in Silicon Valley, filing criminal charges against only a handful of

high-tech executives the entire decade.

Since shaking the recession of the early 1990s, Silicon Valley has

become the epicenter of the fastest creation of wealth the world has

ever seen. And the opportunities and motives for financial deceit have

never been greater. Silicon Valley executives face intense pressure to

meet Wall Street's expectations. Missing quarterly projections can mean

financial disaster for a company -- and for the executives whose

compensation packages depend on the company's stock price.

For many corporate officers, the temptation to "cook the books" -- and

then unload shares before the company's stock price collapses -- is

overwhelming. And unless federal prosecutors crack down, experts warn,

securities fraud will continue to flourish. "More executives should be

going to jail," said Stanford University law Professor Joseph Grundfest,

a former SEC commissioner and national expert in securities fraud. "That

will grab their attention . . . and hand a valuable lesson to the entire


This is the story of how federal prosecutors have allowed securities

fraud to spread through Silicon Valley like a virus. It is an account of

the one major case that the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco

prosecuted, desperately hoping the trial would serve as a warning to the

high-tech industry. And it is about an even bigger case, one of the most

flagrant in Silicon Valley history, that federal prosecutors let sit on

the shelf.

Yamaguchi's Vow, 1993

When Michael Yamaguchi was appointed U.S. attorney for the Northern

District of California in 1993, he took over an office that had been

adrift for years under a string of temporary chiefs. As one of his first

priorities, Yamaguchi pledged an aggressive campaign against

white-collar crime. But the soft-spoken tax specialist quickly learned

it wasn't going to be easy.

"We did not have nearly enough resources," said Richard Seeborg, a

former prosecutor in the agency's San Jose office. "When you compare our

office to U.S. attorney's offices around the country, we were grossly

understaffed." In the 1990s, the Northern California district office

had, on average, only one-quarter of the federal prosecutors per capita

that were assigned to lower Manhattan and one-third the number of

prosecutors posted to Southern California.

Yamaguchi's first test came in June 1994, when former Chronicle

columnist Herb Greenberg reported allegations from former employees at

California Micro Devices that the company had been booking fake or

premature revenue for years. Shortly after the disclosures, as the FBI

and SEC investigated, the company's senior financial officer, Steven

Henke, resigned. A few weeks later, the board of directors fired Chief

Executive Officer Chan Desaigoudar, and Cal Micro's stock plummeted an

estimated $139 million.

As Yamaguchi's prosecutors conducted interviews and pored over Cal

Micro's records, they found that the company had booked millions of

dollars in revenue for products that had not been shipped. They also

discovered double bookkeeping, false financial filings and illegal

write-offs. At the same time, the prosecutors discovered, Desaigoudar

and Henke had dumped more than $1.1 million of their own stock before

its price collapsed. It was the perfect case for Yamaguchi to

demonstrate that his office was serious about white-collar crime.

The Mastermind, 1989

Phil White was always ambitious -- even before he was accused of

masterminding one of the largest securities fraud scandals in Silicon

Valley. The sandy-haired White grew up in small-town Illinois, the son

of an accountant and a public school teacher. He majored in business at

Illinois Wesleyan University and later graduated from the University of

Illinois' business school. He first worked for a travel company, leading

tours through Latin America, Europe and Canada and running the company's

Hawaii office. But when he realized he had no chance to head the

family-owned business, he quit. "I didn't go to school," he once told a

financial trade magazine, "to be second or third fiddle." Next, he moved

to IBM's St. Louis office, where he consistently won sales awards. But

he knew he would never challenge for the top job at IBM, either, and

after 15 years, nearing middle age, he decided to change course. In

1982, White moved to a sales and marketing job in Silicon Valley and two

years later joined the board of Wyse Technology. In 1986, when the

company needed an aggressive new president and chief operating officer,

White seized the chance.

Wyse had been a prosperous manufacturer of video display terminals for

many years, but its market niche was doomed by a new generation of

desktop computers that could operate without mainframes. Shortly after

White took over, Wyse moved into the personal computer market, and

White's management team promised 20 percent revenue increases every

three months. It was an ambitious goal, and almost immediately it led to


In the haste to meet the target, Wyse made a lot of shoddy computers.

They overheated, erased information and ejected circuit boards during

shipping. The pressure to meet revenue goals grew so intense that in

December 1987 the company shipped computers in garbage bags after the

anti-static containers ran out. According to court documents, the

company claimed sales on computers that were actually sent "around the

corner" to shippers' warehouses, then returned to Wyse after the end of

the financial quarter. Some computers were not shipped at all, merely

entered into records as ordered and "processed." On Feb. 16, 1988, the

company reported quarterly revenue of $128 million -- an astonishing 75

percent increase over the quarter one year earlier. At an industry

conference in September, White proclaimed that 1988 "looks to be a

banner year for all of us."

But on Jan. 5, 1989, the company abruptly announced that revenues for

the previous quarter were down by half from a year earlier. The stock

price plunged to $5 a share, far below its high of $25.50. Almost 600

employees -- 15 percent of the company's workforce -- would soon be

fired. Before the year was over, a Taiwanese company would buy Wyse for

$10 a share. Investors, mutual funds and pension funds lost tens of

millions of dollars. Bill Lerach and other plaintiffs' attorneys sued

White and other company officials for securities fraud and insider


The suit was settled in 1992 for $15.5 million in cash -- with no

admission of wrongdoing. It was not the last time White would be accused

of "cooking the books."

The Prosecutor, 1990

Robert Crowe charged out of Cornell University law school in 1983, eager

to become a criminal defense lawyer. But he quickly found positions as a

public defender more difficult to find than prosecutor jobs, so he wound

up as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., and loved it.

After several years of prosecuting street crimes, the Chicago native

began looking for something more challenging. He found it in 1989 when

he went to work in the U.S. attorney's branch office in San Jose.

In 1990 he got his first securities fraud case. It involved a company in

Campbell called StarSignal Inc. At the time, the U.S attorney's office

didn't pay much attention to investment-fraud cases. According to

several former prosecutors, the lawyer responsible for them just sat on

the complaints in the San Francisco office. It got so bad, they said,

that frustrated SEC officials stopped sending cases over. "The head of

SEC enforcement was thrilled when I began working on StarSignal," Crowe


StarSignal was the brainchild of an excitable and brilliant engineer

named Robert Widergren. With several million dollars raised from private

investors, the company developed the world's first commercial color fax

machine. But the early machines were expensive, costing as much as

$26,000, and sales never took off.

In 1990, a former executive tipped the SEC that the company was raising

money by sending investors false information -- including news of an

imminent sale in Spain worth $83 million. The figure, said the tipster,

was "extracted from the air." That August, the FBI moved in, arresting

Widergren after learning that he planned to transfer money to Belize in

Central America. Widergren was charged with bilking investors of more

than $3 million.

The StarSignal case gave Crowe his first inkling that securities fraud

was more widespread in Silicon Valley than anyone suspected. "Why are

you doing this to me?" Crowe remembers Widergren asking during breaks in

the 1991 StarSignal trial. "My case is just a few million dollars.

There's fraud going on all over the valley worth hundreds of millions."

Informix's Turnaround, 1993

For nearly a decade, Informix flourished as one of Silicon Valley's

leading makers of software for managing computer databases. But in 1989

the Menlo Park company bought a software firm in Kansas City, and the

acquisition started to drag revenues down. So Informix founder Roger

Sippl turned to White, unfazed by Wyse's collapse and the allegations of

securities fraud.

White quickly swung into action, firing a fifth of the company's

workforce. He expanded the company's business to Europe and Asia. He

directed Informix's engineers to change the database software so it

would work in networks of personal computers rather than just

mainframes. When PC networks became the rage, Informix cleaned up.

Within four years, the company rebounded from a $46.3 million annual

loss to post a $56 million profit. Its stock rose from 56 cents a share

to more than $ 30. The numbers dazzled Wall Street, and White looked

like a genius. But then the industry began to slow. And the next year,

company executives found new ways to keep revenues growing.

The First Warning, 1994

Something was wrong with the numbers. In May 1994, internal auditors at

Informix were examining the Australian accounts, and the figures didn't

add up. The company's Australian subsidiary had booked sales a full

quarter before the software products were even shipped.

A few months later, the company's outside auditors -- Ernst & Young --

warned company officers of similar problems in Europe. The auditors also

chided Informix for selling software in Latin America on "handshake"

agreements. "Shareholders will expect agreements with customers to be

documented," the auditors wrote in a draft memo for the 1994 year-end


Informix executives dismissed the incidents as aberrations. But at an

annual meeting in January 1995, Chief Financial Officer Howard Graham

met with sales representatives to backdate contracts so that January

deals appeared to have closed in December, according to a shareholders'

suit. The result was inflated revenues for 1994. The executives joked

among themselves that they were closing the quarter on "December 45th."

A Company On A Roll, 1996

In early 1996, White negotiated Informix's $400 million purchase of

Oakland-based Illustra Information Technologies. It seemed a stiff price

for a company with less than $10 million in annual sales and an unproven

technology that stored images and sound in electronic databases. But

White touted the acquisition and the wonders of Illustra's technology.

"This stuff is going to change the way people think," he said.

And Informix, it seemed, was on a roll. White declared that he expected

the firm "to become a billion-dollar company in 1996." But for nearly

two years, auditors had warned Informix's board of directors that White,

Graham and other executives were inflating revenues through a variety of

questionable accounting practices, including backdated sales, "burn

deals," barter transactions and side letters.

Under what Informix employees called "Howard's rule," Graham would allow

sales contracts to count toward revenue even before they were fully

signed. In barter transactions or "Phil deals" -- named for Phil White

-- Informix would agree to buy another company's products if that

company would license Informix's software. Informix would then count as

revenue the entire value of the software licenses -- without disclosing

that it still had to buy the other products before it could get paid. In

some cases, it never received payment because the software was returned.

And in complex "burn" transactions, Informix would agree to sell

software licenses to a distributor, then loan the distributor money for

the purchase price. Informix would book the transaction as revenue and

the distributor would, in theory, resell the software so that it could

repay -- or "burn" -- its loan commitment to Informix.

But in many cases, the distributor was under no obligation to resell the

software or to repay the loan. Sometimes Informix would never even

deliver the software. The sales, though, remained on the company's


In other transactions, White would negotiate side letters that granted

customers undisclosed concessions such as price breaks or longer payment

terms. The letters changed the deal so that the original sales contracts

-- and the revenues recorded under them -- were no longer accurate.

As Ernst & Young was privately warning Informix directors about these

practices, though, it was publicly issuing letters giving the company a

clean bill of health. On April 15, 1996, Informix reported $204 million

in revenue for the first three months of the year -- a 38 percent jump

from the year before. Wall Street was impressed. The next day, Informix

stock rose $5 to $24.25 a share. Over the next three weeks it would top

$26. And White and Graham would begin to unload tens of thousands of

their shares in the company.

Dumping Stock, 1996

Auditors could barely conceal their frustration about the accounting

irregularities at Informix. "It just gets better all the time," wrote

one Ernst & Young auditor after discovering several improper deals.

In 1996, Informix booked tens of millions of dollars from transactions

that were backdated, incomplete, subject to secret conditions -- or

simply nonexistent, court documents show.

"Phil deals," or barter transactions, accounted for much of the

improperly recorded revenue. That year, Informix sold about $170 million

worth of software to companies from which it bought about $130 million

worth of computer equipment. Although Informix denied the transactions

were related, an audit would later determine that at least some were,

and that they had artificially boosted revenues by $55 million. Burn

deals and side letters contributed tens of millions of dollars more. By

mid-1996, Informix's European subsidiary had booked more than $105

million from burn deals for which the company remained unpaid. The

tactics served their immediate purpose: They increased revenues and kept

the share price high.

By December, before leaving to become chief financial officer at Siebel

Systems, a San Mateo software company, Graham had sold more than $2.8

million worth of his Informix stock. During the next two months, White

and other executives dumped more than $20 million in shares. Then,

suddenly, everything began to come apart.

Informix In Free Fall, 1997

Despite its inflated revenues and soaring stock price, Informix was

starved for cash. And as the company tried to collect on the burn deals

it had written, customers objected, and, in some cases, refused to

conduct further business with the company. British software firm Logical

Systems International, for example, had agreed to "buy" Informix

software with the understanding that Informix would resell it and not

make Logical Systems pay. "Informix asked us to do them a favor," wrote

managing director Stewart Ashton in a March 27, 1997, letter to the

company, a favor that would "artificially inflate the quarter numbers

(of Informix) for last June and September."

But when Informix squeezed Ashton for payment, he howled at having been

"coerced into this . . . arrangement." Finally, Informix could no longer

hide its crumbling finances. On May 14, in its quarterly filing with the

Securities and Exchange Commission, Informix announced that it had lost

$140.1 million in the first quarter of 1997, and that "almost half of

the licenses sold to resellers" since 1995 "have not been resold."

White blamed an "overemphasis" on selling the new Illustra-based

technology rather than traditional software, but financial analysts knew

better. "An unmitigated disaster," one analyst called the company's


Yamaguchi's Retreat, 1997

Robert Crowe watched from his desk in San Francisco as much of the U.S.

attorney's office sank slowly into disarray. He had transferred from the

San Jose office after Widergren's conviction in the StarSignal case. He

had taken charge of screening most investment-fraud prosecutions and

coordinating investigations with the SEC. But Yamaguchi's vow to crack

down on white-collar crime in Silicon Valley quickly turned hollow.

In December 1996, Sen. Diane Feinstein recommended Yamaguchi to fill a

vacancy on the U.S. District Court in San Jose. The judgeship should

have been a crowning achievement for the 46-year-old prosecutor, whose

father, grandparents and thousands of other Japanese Americans were kept

in World War II internment camps after a series of rulings by federal


But five months later, Yamaguchi withdrew his name after his public

comment about an important drug prosecution led to a mistrial in the

case. "After that, and all the bad press around the case, Mike just

disengaged and hid out in his office," said one former assistant U.S.

attorney. Even Yamaguchi acknowledged later that he had "crawled into a


Veteran prosecutors were leaving the office in droves. Case filings and

conviction rates were plunging. And criminal referrals from the SEC and

FBI -- some involving serious allegations of fraud in the high-tech

industry -- were going unprosecuted. Even the Cal Micro case, the

office's best hope for sending Silicon Valley executives a message,

seemed in jeopardy.

A Day Of Reckoning, 1997

Informix was at the threshold of disaster. On July 30, 1997, directors

and top company executives gathered to hear the devastating news in the

Palo Alto offices of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the most powerful

law firm in Silicon Valley. The board had already stripped White of his

title as chief executive officer and hired a replacement, former 3Com

executive Robert Finnochio, to review Informix's financial records.

After asking White to excuse himself from the meeting, the directors

listened raptly as Finnochio described the widespread accounting

irregularities that White and other company executives had allegedly

engaged in or condoned. Finnochio's grim report meant that White was

finished. When Finnochio completed his presentation, the directors

severed all ties with White and replaced him as chairman with Finnochio.

It took Ernst & Young three months to determine the full extent of the

questionable accounting schemes. On November 18, Finnochio made what he

described as "the mother of all financial announcements." Informix would

have to restate financial results for the previous three years. The

company disclosed that it had improperly claimed a staggering $278

million in revenues and $236 million in profits.

On the brink of insolvency, Informix laid off thousands of employees.

Offices were closed and operations consolidated. The company abandoned

plans to build showrooms around the world and announced that it would

sell a 27-acre parcel of land in Santa Clara, the planned site for new


Immediately, Lerach and other plaintiffs' attorneys filed class-action

suits on behalf of the thousands of investors who had lost millions of

dollars, and Informix braced for the onslaught.

The Eve Of Trial, 1998

It was well past midnight in the warren of cramped offices on the 11th

floor of the Phillip Burton Federal Building, and Crowe was still

working. He had been at it for days, his frustration mounting. More than

three years had passed since the investigation into Cal Micro had

opened. In the middle of trial preparations, Leo Cunningham, then

Richard Seeborg, the two prosecutors who had worked the case from the

beginning, left the U.S. attorney's office to join big law firms in

Silicon Valley.

Crowe had replaced them, and now, in early 1998, he was handling the

case alone. He looked over the 600,000 pages of documents with a mixture

of disbelief and terror. "I got started so late," he said. "There was no

secretary, no paralegal, no resources I could count on from the office

-- nothing. "At one point I had to decide between spending 80 hours with

(a key witness) or going through every document. I chose the witness,

but I was afraid the defense would find something in those papers, and I

would be blindsided during the trial."

Finally, the Department of Justice dispatched Pamela Merchant, a senior

fraud specialist in Boston, to help him try the case. Meanwhile, fraud

cases from the SEC and the FBI continued to pile up on his desk. But

there was little Crowe could do. He tried to farm them out to other

prosecutors, but he couldn't force anyone to take them. And he was

acutely aware of how Silicon Valley would view the inaction. "These big

white-collar cases . . . should have high impact," he said. "But if you

screw around for four or five years, no one takes you seriously."

An Empty Victory, 1998

The Cal Micro case finally went to trial in June. Crowe and Merchant

believed they had a strong case, a tour de force constructed around a

stack of financial records and the testimony of two former Cal Micro

executives who agreed to testify for the prosecution.

In their defense, former CEO Desaigoudar and treasurer Henke told the

jury that they had done nothing wrong, that they never saw memos or

attended meetings where the fraud was discussed. And they repeatedly

blamed the wrongdoing on their subordinates.

Their testimony proved unpersuasive. On July 14, 1998, after a five-week

trial, jurors found each man guilty of five felony charges, including

conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and making false SEC


It was a major victory for the demoralized U.S. attorney's office. But

for Crowe it was the end of the road.

Just before the trial, his supervisor entered his office and complained

that Crowe hadn't done anything with the mounting inventory of criminal

fraud referrals. "I exploded," Crowe said. "I had given him the cases to

reassign months earlier so I could concentrate on the trial, and he had

done nothing."

Crowe was sick with frustration. He had relished prosecuting Widergren,

Desaigoudar, Henke and other white-collar criminals. He had even won an

award for his representation of financial fraud victims. In August, he

cleared out his desk in the federal building. When he submitted his

resignation, he had no idea who would take over the inventory of cases

the office still hadn't dealt with, including one potentially explosive

case referred to him months before.

The Verdict, 1998

On December 8, a vast Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power failure left

only dim, backup lighting in the San Francisco courtroom of U.S.

District Judge Vaughn Walker. Despite the jury's verdict against Chan

Desaigoudar and Steven Henke, the former Cal Micro executives refused to

acknowledge their crimes, insisting that their subordinates had betrayed

them. "If I have a regret about my conduct as a former CEO and

chairman," a defiant Desaigoudar told the judge, "it is simply this: I

might have trusted my employees. For this, I and my family will suffer

and have been suffering."

Walker tentatively ruled that he would impose prison terms of 36 months

for Desaigoudar and 32 months for Henke, far less than the government

had requested. Merchant was furious. "Your honor, the government is

deeply troubled," she said. She reminded Walker that the fraud had cost

investors tens of millions of dollars. "This is a significant, as the

court has said, grave matter." She urged Walker to reconsider and to

send a strong message "to the public and the investing community that

this type of crime would not be treated differently than any other


Walker was unswayed. He praised the accomplishments of the two

defendants. He extolled their civic and charitable contributions. He

even called their situations tragic. "This cannot by any stretch of the

imagination," he said, "be rendered equivalent to fraud which takes

advantage of helpless and uninformed or particularly gullible



In August 1998, Yamaguchi resigned as U.S. attorney amid growing

criticism from judges and attorneys about his ineffectiveness. Several

months later he became an immigration law judge in San Francisco.

Yamaguchi was immediately replaced by Robert Mueller, a tough, career

prosecutor from Washington, D.C., who immediately promised to step up

prosecutions of white-collar crime, focusing on Silicon Valley.

A month later, after a four-year investigation, two former executives of

Media Vision, a Fremont chip developer, were indicted on charges of

securities fraud and insider trading. The case has yet to come to trial.

Mueller said the agency has "a number of cases in the hopper," but he

declined to comment further.

In July of this year, the shareholders' class-action suits against

Informix were settled. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the company and

Ernst & Young agreed to pay investors a total of $142 million, the

largest securities fraud settlement in Silicon Valley history.

White, who was not held personally liable for any of the settlement,

currently lives in Atherton and sits on the boards of several companies,

as well as his college alma mater. He denies any wrongdoing and has

declined to comment further. Howard Graham, who also paid nothing under

the settlement, refused to comment. o criminal charges have been filed

against White, Graham or any other Informix executives by the U.S.

attorney's office.

Desaigoudar and Henke have appealed their convictions, and they remain

free on bail. Crowe practices law in San Francisco, representing



Roger Sippl founded Informix in 1980 after Hodgkin's disease forced him

to put his medical education on hold. The company quickly grew into one

of Silicon Valley's hottest companies, and after Phil White took over in

1989 it seemed poised to surpass Oracle, Sybase and other competitors as

the top maker of data-base management software.

A troubled fling with a multimedia-database product and charges of

accounting fraud and illegal insider trading derailed the company in

1997. The company has attempted to recover ever since, and last year

posted net income of $57.7 million after a $357 million loss the year


California Micro Devices

Based in Milpitas, California Micro Devices makes silicon chips, filters

and electronic circuitry for workstations and personal computers. Since

its former top officers were accused of securities fraud in 1994 and

then convicted last year, the company has attempted to recover by

expanding into new markets. For the fiscal year ended in March, Cal

Micro lost $2.8 million on sales of $33.6 million. It has 150 employees

in Milpitas and 110 in Tempe, Ariz. (The San Francisco Chronicle


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