What started out as a routine audit of a newly acquired business has now turned into a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by the former owner and new owners of one of the area's most recognizable construction companies.
TL Wallace Construction Company has been one of Columbia's largest employers for years, building roads and bridges all across the south.
In 2012, the company's founder and sole owner Thomas Wallace sold the business to Jim and Thomas Duff, two brothers and Columbia natives.
The Duff's had already built an empire employing 4,300 people, mainly through the tire and transport business. As part of their due diligence, the Duff's reviewed the books of TL Wallace and were furnished an audited balance sheet prepared by Wallace's accounting firm McArthur, Thames, Slay, and Dews.
According to Thomas Duff, "The accounting firm reflected a net worth of 6.7 million dollars when in fact, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Digging further, it only got worse from there."
In January, TL Wallace Construction Company, now owned by the Duff's, and former owner Thomas Wallace filed suit, alleging the company's assets had been misappropriated, and accuses McArthur, Thames, Slay, and Dews accounting firm of Hattiesburg and its C.P.A. representative Raymond Polk of failure to properly audit company books.
The suit also alleges the accounting firm failed to audit purchases made with company credit cards and failed to notify the company of weaknesses in accounting controls leading to widespread abuse of corporate funds for personal benefit.
The suit goes on to claim the firm failed to discover the chief financial officer was misappropriating funds for years, and failed to detect transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in company funds to pay for home improvements of non-shareholder employees.
Other details in the suit state that the accounting firm overstated assets and understated liabilities in its audits and Wallace made business decisions based on those audits. When the irregularities were discovered in 2012, the company was unable to bid on new jobs, costing them 30-50 million dollars in revenues.
The suit is asking for punitive damages from the accounting firm and Polk claiming they have committed intentional wrongs against the company.
Plus, the damage may not end there. The IRS has is now involved. The government audited the company for tax years 2008-2011 and is aware of the alleged misreporting of personal expenses, which could mean the payment of more taxes, plus interest and potential penalties
The attorneys for McArthur, Thames, Slay, and Dews released a statement Tuesday in response to the lawsuit:
"We believe this suit by Mr. Wallace and the new owners of Wallace Construction, who fully knew the condition of the company before they bought it, is a misguided attempt to compensate for bad business decisions during difficult economic times and unfairly shift blame for the financial failings of the company to outside accountants. It is our belief that Mr. Wallace created and fostered the financial policies and corporate culture responsible for the financial decline of his company. We regret that Wallace Construction, and especially Mr. Wallace, who has been a politically active leader in our state and local community, have resorted to such conduct. This will require us to defend our reputation and we will."