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Originally published April 8, 2013 at 11:19 AM | Page modified April 9, 2013 at 1:24 PM

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Moss Adams sanctioned over Meridian Mortgage subpoena

The Moss Adams accounting firm should pay for not fully complying with a bankruptcy trustee’s subpoena for documents related to Frederick Darren Berg’s Ponzi scheme, a federal judge ruled.

By Seattle Times business staff

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A federal judge ruled that accounting firm Moss Adams didn’t fully comply with a 2010 subpoena for documents on convicted Ponzi scheme financier Frederick Darren Berg and should compensate a bankruptcy trustee for the cost of a lengthy legal battle to get the information.

Seattle-based Moss Adams, the nation’s 12-largest CPA firm, audited some of the Meridian Mortgage real-estate-investment funds created by Berg and did his personal taxes as well.

After Berg pleaded guilty to defrauding investors of more than $100 million and was sentenced to 18 years in prison, bankruptcy trustee Mark Calvert sued Moss Adams in December 2011.

Calvert’s lawsuit contends the firm was negligent in its audits of six of the Meridian funds at various times between 2001 and 2007, and should have detected Berg’s fraud.

Bankruptcy-court judge Karen Overstreet ruled Friday that Moss Adams “did not take all reasonable steps” to comply with the subpoena.

Overstreet did not specify how much the firm should pay the trustee — that will be decided later.

Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Calvert, said in a news release that those sanctions “are expected to be well in excess of $250,000.”

Steve Fogg, an attorney representing Moss Adams, said he was disappointed by the decision. The company intends to appeal the ruling, he said.

Moss Adams blamed a copying firm for not delivering some boxes of its documents, but it also acknowledged its own staff had not gathered and turned over all the emails and work papers relating to Berg.

The judge said Moss Adams failed to preserve emails on the company’s Outlook server after receiving the subpoena, although under company policy “those emails would exist only for a few days before destruction.”

In addition, wrote Overstreet, Moss Adams and its attorneys repeatedly assured the trustee that all documents had been produced “despite the fact that such assurances were incorrect.”

Calvert contended the additional documents could provide information useful to his suit against Moss Adams, which seeks as much as $150 million.

Initially the trustee’s suit was filed in King County Superior Court.

In that venue it was Calvert who was ordered to pay the other side’s costs — $74,000 — after Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled he had not followed her order to itemize how Meridian investors allegedly relied on Moss Adams audits when they invested with Berg.

Rami Grunbaum: 206-464-8541 or rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

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