This is the twenty-second in a series of installments on this blog that are discussing issues arising in the aftermath of the long global Ponzi scheme of Bernard L. Madoff (“Madoff”). Installments 3 through 8, Installment 10 and Installments 14 through 21 of this series focused on the concerns of charities that were investors with Madoff and similar schemes. All potential stakeholders should consult professional advisors to have their positions evaluated.
Installment 14 of this series compared and contrasted recent Forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) for fiscal 2008 by two of the most significant and respected charities that invested with Madoff: Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (“Hadassah”), and Yeshiva University (“Yeshiva”). While the missions of Hadassah and Yeshiva (collectively, the “Charities”) are different, they provide a basis for comparison of transparency, and share as part of their missions the advancement of education and Jewish awareness in the United States and Israel. For disclosure purposes, readers are again advised that the spouse of the author of this blog contributor has been a Life Member of Hadassah for many years.
Because of the decision by Hadassah to change its fiscal year from a year ending May 31 to the calendar year, Hadassah was required to file a Form 990 with the IRS for the seven-month period ended December 31, 2008 (the “December Hadassah Form 990”). The filing by Hadassah of the December Hadassah Form 990 within approximately seven months after having filed its Form 990 for the fiscal year ended May 31, 2008 (the “May Hadassah Form 990” and, collectively with the December Hadassah Form 990, the “Hadassah 2008 Forms 990”) within such a short period has enabled an unusual insight into Hadassah’s public financial disclosure decisions.
These Forms 990 filings come at a time in history when Hadassah has been endeavoring to repair its post-Madoff image. In a widely-reprinted January 2010 Associated Press article by David B. Caruso, Hadassah President Nancy Falchuk was quoted as saying that the group has sought to streamline and refocus itself and that she has worked hard to rebuild the nonprofit's reputation.
Nonetheless, it would appear that positive image-building for Hadassah did not extend to best practices in transparency in the May Hadassah Form 990 regarding its dealings with Madoff. The May Hadassah Form 990 contained no disclosure relative to Madoff investments and distributions for Hadassah.
As stated in Installment 14 of this series, Hadassah did not measure up to the level of transparency regarding Madoff provided by Yeshiva in its Form 990 filing with the IRS for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008 (the “Yeshiva Form 990”). While Hadassah did not mention its Madoff financial complexities at all in the May Hadassah Form 990, the Yeshiva Form 990 clearly laid out the dollar amounts involved with Madoff. Curiously the contrasting methods of presentation were in Forms 990 whose professional Preparer was the Park Avenue, New York, office of KPMG LLP, and the same professional at KPMG signed all of such Forms 990.
There is an even more perplexing point about the Hadassah 2008 Forms 990 when they are compared to Hadassah’s consolidated financial statements for the fiscal years ended May 31, 2008 and December 31, 2008, with the auditors’ report of KPMG LLP (collectively, the “2008 Financial Statements”). Hadassah is to be commended for voluntarily making the 2008 Financial Statements available to the public on request.
Both of the 2008 Financial Statements contains a note as to the Hadassah/Madoff involvement. The note in the Hadassah December 31, 2008 financial statements about Madoff is substantially the same as the note in the December 2008 Hadassah Form 990. However, the May Hadassah Form 990 was silent as to Madoff, and that Form 990 actually related to the fiscal year in which Hadassah took the substantial write-down in Madoff “assets”. In contrast to the May Hadassah Form 990, the following statement is part of Note (15) Subsequent Events to the Hadassah May 31, 2008 audited financial statements (“Note 15”):
Subsequent to year-end, Hadassah learned that it has been a victim of the fraudulent scheme perpetrated by Bernard L. Madoff Securities LLC (Madoff) which resulted in write-off of an investment amounting to $88,725,362 as of May 31, 2008. Investor statements received from Madoff reported total investments at fair value of $88,725,362 and $80,684,460 at May 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively, and investment return of $8,040,902 and $11,405,448 for the years ended May 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively. . . .
It is puzzling that Hadassah and its Form 990 Preparer would determine not to include in the May Hadassah Form 990 the language of Note 15 when they deemed it material enough to explain the substantial write off in the corresponding 2008 Financial Statements. It is especially perplexing that the contemporary Yeshiva Form 990 for which KPMG LLP was also the Preparer did have a comprehensive note explaining its write-down of investments with Madoff. Again, I believe that Yeshiva has been more successful than Hadassah in using the Yeshiva Form 990 to build new credibility and repair a damaged reputation than Hadassah has done with the Hadassah 2008 Forms 990.