The former chief executive officer of Iconix Brand Group faces possible jail time after his conviction Monday of fraudulently inflating the brand management company’s revenue and misleading investors and auditors.
Neil Cole, who left Iconix in 2015, was convicted by a federal jury of one count of securities fraud, six counts of making false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and one count of improperly influencing the conduct of audits. Each count carries a maximum prison term of 20 years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release.
Cole’s guilty verdict was rendered following a retrial. The DOJ first announced criminal charges against him in December 2019, at the same time the SEC charged Iconix; Cole; and two other executives, Chief Operating Officer Seth Horowitz and Chief Financial Officer Warren Clamen, with accounting fraud.
Iconix, Horowitz, and Clamen agreed then to settle with the SEC. Horowitz also pleaded guilty to DOJ charges and cooperated with the agency’s investigation.
Cole fought the DOJ’s allegations, and after a trial resulted in his acquittal of two charges, the U.S. attorney moved forward with a second trial on the remaining ones.
“Cole tried to hide his conduct behind tricks and lies, but the truth is now clear: Cole cooked the books,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the DOJ’s press release. “This verdict sends a message that this office is committed to holding corporate executives accountable when they resort to fraud, no matter how long it takes.”
Iconix, which acquires fashion brands and then licenses the brands to retailers, wholesalers, and suppliers, engaged in joint ventures in foreign markets. In those arrangements, Iconix and a second company typically split the licensing revenue 50-50.
The jury found Cole guilty of using joint ventures to make it appear Iconix was seeing revenue hikes quarter after quarter. Cole and Horowitz convinced a Hong Kong company to pretend to pay a high price for sharing the joint venture, “with the understanding that Iconix would then reimburse” the company for the overpayment, the DOJ said.
Cole and Horowitz hid the fraudulent plan from Iconix’s lawyers and outside auditors, and the company reported inflated revenue to the SEC and investors, “allowing Iconix to meet or beat Wall Street analysts’ consensus estimates in the second and third quarters of 2014,” the SEC said.
Cole and Horowitz “realized substantial profits” as Iconix stock price rose and they sold shares, the SEC said. The two allegedly deleted emails to try to hide the fraud.
Iconix overstated its net income by hundreds of millions of dollars between 2013 and the third quarter of 2015, the SEC said. Accounting improprieties by Clamen and the company allowed this to happen, the SEC said.
Iconix did not reply to a request for comment.