Chapter : Knapp Cases Le-Nature’s Inc.
Book Title: Fraud Examination
Printed By: Abdullah Aljammaz (email@example.com)
© 2019 Cengage Learning, Inc.
After graduating from West Virginia University in 1984 with a degree in accounting and
finance, Gregory Podlucky decided to work with his father Gabriel, who had a small
business empire in western Pennsylvania.
The senior Podlucky’s business interests
included a chain of auto parts stores, an ethanol fuel company, several real estate
properties, and, most notably, the Jones Brewing Co., which is best known for its line of
beers sold under the “Stoney’s” brand name.
In 1989, Gregory Podlucky decided to strike out on his own. Podlucky used the funds he
obtained from cashing out his ownership interest in his father’s businesses to establish a
water bottling venture in LaTrobe, Pennsylvania, the hometown of golfing great Arnold
Palmer. In 1992, the entrepreneur and former CPA expanded his product line to include a
wide range of flavored water, fruit, and tea drinks.
Despite competing in the hypercompetitive beverage industry, Podlucky’s company, which
he ultimately named Le-Nature’s Inc., grew rapidly. By 2006, the company was the 33rd
largest beverage producer in the United States with annual reported sales approaching
$290 million and a workforce of several hundred employees. One year earlier, an
investment group had offered Podlucky $1.2 billion for Le-Nature’s, an offer he rejected.
Instead of selling out, Podlucky decided to take his company public. Unfortunately for
Podlucky, his fellow investors, and his company’s many creditors, that dream was never
Podlucky served as Le-Nature’s chief executive officer (CEO) and relied principally on his
family and wide circle of friends and business associates to staff the company’s other key
positions as it expanded over the years. He hired his brother, Jonathan, to serve as LeNature’s chief operating officer (COO) and placed his 22-year-old son Jesse in charge of the
day-to-day accounting for Le-Nature’s large subsidiary that produced bottled tea products.
Among the friends that he appointed to management positions at Le-Nature’s was Robert
Lynn, who had multiple titles over the years with the company including executive vice
president of sales.
Despite serving as Le-Nature’s CEO, Gregory Podlucky was also heavily involved in the
company’s “routine accounting functions.”
“Director of Accounting” was the title held by
the organization’s chief accountant, a position occupied by Tammy Andreycak, another
close friend of Podlucky. Andreycak was a single mother who did not have a college degree
or formal training in accounting. According to company insiders, her primary role within LeNature’s was serving as Podlucky’s confidante. When dealing with third parties, Podlucky
often referred to Andreycak as his “secretary.”
A common nemesis of a rapidly growing small company is a shortage of capital. Gregory
Podlucky relied on different strategies to finance his company’s expanding operations.
During the 14 years that he served as Le-Nature’s CEO, the articulate and outgoing
Podlucky raised almost $1 billion of debt and equity capital for the company.
In 1999, Podlucky retained a financial consulting firm to identify potential investors for LeNature’s. In 2000 and 2002, that consulting firm arranged for two investment funds to
collectively purchase eight million shares of Le-Nature’s preferred stock which they had the
right to convert into the company’s common stock. If the two funds had exercised the
convertibility option, they would have controlled 45 percent of Le-Nature’s outstanding
common stock; Podlucky owned all of his company’s outstanding common stock throughout
The sales of preferred stock raised nearly $30 million for Le-Nature’s. Those transactions
directly impacted Le-Nature’s corporate governance structure because each of the
investment funds that purchased the preferred stock had the right to appoint an individual to
the company’s board of directors. The majority of the board consisted of “inside” directors
including Podlucky, his brother, Jonathan, and other senior company executives.
Another financing technique used by Podlucky was long-term equipment leasing. In one
such transaction, Podlucky retained a North Carolina leasing agent to contract with a
Wisconsin-based company that was a subsidiary of a German manufacturing firm. The
German firm manufactured equipment Le-Nature’s used in its bottling operations. With the
North Carolina leasing agent serving as an intermediary, Le-Nature’s leased the equipment
from the Wisconsin subsidiary of the German firm. The leasing agreement required LeNature’s to make a large escrow deposit with the leasing agent; Le-Nature’s borrowed those
funds from a U.S. lender. In total, Podlucky financed the acquisition of approximately $300
million of equipment in this manner.
The primary method Podlucky used to raise funds for his company was conventional longterm borrowing arrangements. Wachovia, a diversified financial services firm based in North
Carolina, arranged or underwrote approximately $500 million of long-term debt for LeNature’s.
In 2005, for example, Wachovia marketed a $150 million bond issue for the
company. The high-yield or “junk” bonds were sold primarily to pension and retirement funds
such as California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest
Podlucky relied heavily on Le-Nature’s’ audited financial statements to borrow funds for his
company. Take the case of the $150 million bond issue. Wachovia included Le-Nature’s
audited financial statements with the promotional materials for those bonds. Likewise,
Moody’s Investors Service accessed and relied on Le-Nature’s financial statements to
assign credit ratings to those bonds and the company’s other outstanding debt obligations.
Suspicions + Resignations = Investigation
In August 2003, Le-Nature’s independent audit firm, Ernst & Young (EY), was completing its
review of the company’s financial statements for the second quarter of fiscal 2003. A
standard procedure EY performed during the quarterly review was to ask a client’s senior
executives whether they were aware of, or suspected, any fraudulent activity within the
organization. When Richard Lipovich, the EY audit engagement partner, posed that
question to John Higbee, Le-Nature’s CFO at the time, Higbee candidly replied that he had
significant doubts regarding the reliability of his company’s recorded sales figures. Lipovich
received similar responses from Le-Nature’s chief administrative officer (CAO) and its vice
president of administration (VPA). The day after communicating their concerns to Lipovich,
the three company officials submitted letters of resignation to Gregory Podlucky.
In their resignation letters, the three former executives suggested that Podlucky was
“engaging in improper conduct with Le-Nature’s tea suppliers, equipment vendors, and
Higbee—who had served for 20 years as an audit partner with
Arthur Andersen & Co., including 16 years heading up the audit practice for that firm’s
Pittsburgh office—reported that Podlucky had repeatedly refused to provide him with
documentation supporting key transactions reflected in Le-Nature’s accounting records. He
considered Podlucky’s failure to provide such documentation “an astonishing and extremely
improper restriction for any executive officer to impose upon a company’s chief financial
Those restrictions made it impossible for Higbee to satisfy his CFO-related
corporate governance responsibilities.
Higbee also identified what he considered to be several material weaknesses in Le-Nature’s
internal controls. Those weaknesses included Podlucky’s “absolute control” over the
company’s “detailed financial records” and the lack of “checks and balances” for key assets
of the company such as the large escrow deposits for its long-term equipment leases and its
The startling statements by Higbee and his two former colleagues in their resignation letters
prompted Richard Lipovich to write a letter to Le-Nature’s board of directors. In that letter,
Lipovich requested that Le-Nature’s retain an independent law firm to investigate and file a
report regarding the allegations made by the three former company executives. Lipovich
informed Le-Nature’s board that EY would not be associated with any of the company’s
financial statements until
1) the external investigation was completed,
2) EY had reviewed the given report, and
3) the accounting firm had decided what other investigative procedures, if any, were
necessary on its part.
Le-Nature’s board responded to Lipovich’s letter by creating a Special Committee to
investigate the allegations made by the three former executives. That committee was made
up of the outside members of the company’s board, which included the directors appointed
by the investment funds that had purchased Le-Nature’s preferred stock. The Special
Committee retained an independent law firm, K & L Gates, one of the ten largest legal firms
in the United States, to supervise that investigation. In turn, K & L Gates hired an
independent accounting firm, Pascarella & Wiker, to assist in the investigation.
In late November 2003, K & L Gates submitted a draft copy of its report to Podlucky, who
was not a member of the Special Committee. The CEO provided feedback regarding the
report to the law firm. One week later, K & L Gates provided a revised copy of the report to
the members of the Special Committee. The report “found no evidence of fraud or
although it did identify multiple internal control weaknesses. Among the
suggestions made to remedy those internal control weaknesses were strengthening the
segregation of duties for key transactions such as equipment leases and inventory
purchases, adopting more rigorous documentation standards for those transactions, and
establishing an audit committee consisting of outside directors.
The outside directors on the Special Committee accepted the findings of the investigative
report and indicated they would work with the other members of Le-Nature’s board of
directors to address the identified internal control problems. Shortly thereafter, Le-Nature’s
dismissed EY as its independent audit firm and retained BDO Seidman, which would
ultimately audit the company’s 2003 through 2005 financial statements.
Fraud Allegations Resurface
Following the 2003 investigation, Gregory Podlucky rededicated himself to enhancing his
company’s stature and size in the beverage industry. Le-Nature’s impressive financial data
caught the attention of several private equity funds in 2005 when Wachovia prepared and
distributed a “confidential memorandum” to sell the company to the highest bidder. The
initial bid received for the company was $1.2 billion. To the disappointment of the company’s
preferred stockholders, Podlucky rejected that offer. The preferred stockholders claimed that
Podlucky intentionally sabotaged the sale of Le-Nature’s by refusing to allow the potential
buyer access to the company’s accounting records. Podlucky dismissed that allegation and
instead maintained he had rejected the buyout offer because the price had been too low.
In May 2006, the preferred stockholders filed a lawsuit against Le-Nature’s, Podlucky, and
other top executives to force an outright sale of the company. Despite that lawsuit, Podlucky
began preparing an initial public offering (IPO) for Le-Nature’s with the assistance of K & L
Gates. At the same time, Wachovia was in the process of arranging more than $300 million
of additional long-term loans for Le-Nature’s.
Podlucky’s plans for his company were disrupted when allegations of an accounting fraud
within Le-Nature’s resurfaced. The CEO refuted those allegations by pointing out that LeNature’s independent auditors had issued unqualified opinions each year on the company’s
financial statements. Podlucky also insisted that “the financial stability of Le-Nature’s has
never been stronger”
and boldly predicted that Le-Nature’s sales would nearly
quadruple over the next four years, increasing from approximately $290 million to more than
$1 billion annually.
In October 2006, Le-Nature’s preferred stockholders requested a restraining order against
the company in a petition they filed with a Delaware court. In the petition, the preferred
stockholders referred the court to a fraudulent equipment leasing transaction arranged by
Le-Nature’s. One of the lenders that provided the financing for the company’s long-term
leases had determined, with the assistance of a handwriting expert, that certain documents
for the given transaction had been forged. The forged documents had resulted in $20 million
of the lease escrow deposit financed by the lender being improperly transferred to LeNature’s.
The Delaware court issued the requested restraining order, evicted Gregory Podlucky from
the company’s corporate headquarters, and appointed Steven Panagos of Kroll Zolfo
Cooper, a consulting firm specializing in corporate turnarounds and restructuring, to serve
as the custodian of Le-Nature’s assets and operations. Less than one week later, Panagos
filed an affidavit with the court that presented evidence of a massive accounting fraud within
the company. He also reported that he had found evidence that Gregory Podlucky had
“frantically shredded company documents”
before he was forced to leave Le-Nature’s
corporate headquarters. Even more troubling was the custodian’s discovery that the
company had been maintaining two sets of accounting records.
Panagos’ affidavit spurred Le-Nature’s creditors to file a petition to initiate involuntary
bankruptcy proceedings against the company. A federal bankruptcy judge approved that
petition and appointed a bankruptcy trustee to take control of Le-Nature’s for the purpose of
liquidating it and pursuing any viable legal claims against individuals or entities involved in
undermining the company.
Fraud on a Grand Scale
Investigations of Le-Nature’s accounting records by the company’s court-appointed
custodian, bankruptcy trustee, and law enforcement authorities revealed the sordid details
of the brazen accounting hoax initiated by Gregory Podlucky in the late 1990s. The
individual who would prove to be most helpful in unraveling the fraudulent scheme was
Tammy Andrecyak, Le-Nature’s Director of Accounting and Podlucky’s most trusted
associate. After pleading guilty to multiple criminal charges, Andrecyak agreed to cooperate
with law enforcement authorities investigating the Le-Nature’s scandal. A federal judge
would subsequently note that Andrecyak and Podlucky were the only “two people aware of
the magnitude of the [Le-Nature’s] fraud.”
James Garrett, a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) assigned
to the Le-Nature’s case, characterized the fraud masterminded by Podlucky as a “financial
mirage the likes of which I could never even dreamt could have been created.”
the company had reported sales of more than $135 million when the company’s actual sales
were fewer than $2 million. Three years later, in 2005, the fiscal year before the fraud was
uncovered, Le-Nature’s audited financial statements reported revenues of $287 million
when the company’s actual revenues were fewer than $40 million. A large portion of the
bogus revenues booked by Le-Nature’s was cycled through its tea subsidiary. From 2000
through 2006, that subsidiary reported sales of $240 million while its actual sales during that
period were fewer than $100,000.
Podlucky and his co-conspirators used Le-Nature’s graphics department to prepare a slew
of bogus purchase orders, sales invoices, and other fake documents to sustain the
accounting fraud. The bogus documents allowed the conspirators to conceal Le-Nature’s
enormous volume of fictitious revenues from the company’s lenders, independent auditors,
and regulatory authorities. As determined by one of Le-Nature’s lenders, the conspirators
also used forged documents to improperly transfer deposits held in escrow by a leasing
agent to Le-Nature’s. In turn, that leasing agent provided confirmations to Le-Nature’s
independent auditors that intentionally overstated the dollar amount of deposits being held
by his firm on behalf of the company.
Le-Nature’s maintained two completely separate accounting systems during the course of
the massive accounting fraud. One system accumulated the company’s actual transaction
data, which only Podlucky and Andrecyak could access. The other accounting system
contained primarily fraudulent financial data. The company’s independent auditors were
unaware of the former accounting system. Podlucky was also successful in concealing that
accounting system from K & L Gates and Pascarella & Wiker, the law firm and accounting
firm, respectively, that were involved in the Special Committee fraud investigation of 2003.
Podlucky used Le-Nature’s phony financial statements to convince third parties to loan
funds to the company. He then siphoned off large amounts of those borrowed funds for his
personal use. Because the stolen funds had to be repaid, it was necessary for Podlucky to
continually borrow additional amounts. This cycle of repaying stolen funds with new loans
caused law enforcement authorities to characterize his fraud as a Ponzi scheme.
As pointed out by Le-Nature’s court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, the 2003 Special
Committee investigation tragically backfired on the company’s preferred stockholders and
creditors, who were the primary victims of Podlucky’s scam. The “no fraud” conclusion
included in the investigative report submitted to the Special Committee allowed Podlucky
and his co-conspirators to continue “looting” the company “and wasting corporate funds on
avoidable transactions” for three more years.
Federal law enforcement authorities placed a final price tag of nearly $700 million on the
long-running scam masterminded by Gregory Podlucky. U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch, in a
decision that was largely symbolic, imposed a $661 million restitution order on Podlucky.
That figure included the huge losses suffered by Le-Nature’s enormously unprofitable
business operations and the funds embezzled and squandered by Podlucky and his family
Podlucky used the embezzled funds to finance a lavish and ostentatious lifestyle. An audit
of Podlucky’s personal finances revealed that in one year he spent $45,000 on shoes; his
corporate salary at the time was $50,000. When he lost control of Le-Nature’s, Podlucky
was building a palatial, 25,000-square-foot home near the company’s headquarters that had
a price tag approaching $20 million. Nearly $30 million of ...
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