An accountant from Stamford who was responsible for fraud and forensic accounting services for a Manhattan firm has been charged with fraud in an alleged $2 million intellectual property scheme that operated in part in Westchester County.
Steven L. Henning, 57, a CPA and former partner at Marks Paneth Accountants & Advisors, was arrested Monday in St. Johns, Florida and accused of wire fraud.
In 2014, the accounting firm quoted Henning in a press release as advocating spot audits to avoid a situation “where investments were missing, not because of market fluctuations, but because they didn’t exist in the first place.”
That, essentially, is the situation that the feds describe in the criminal complaint.
Attempts to contact Henning for a response failed.
“The actions alleged in the government’s complaint are not related to the business of the accounting firm,” Marks Paneth spokeswoman Diane Paoletta said, and the firm “continues to cooperate with the government’s investigation.”
In 2008, Henning formed MP&S Intellectual Property Associates LLC, according to a related federal lawsuit, to promote his idea of an intellectual property exchange. In 2011, the company changed its name to OpportunIP LLC.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release that OpportunIP had offices in Tarrytown and Purchase.
From 2012 to 2017, Henning allegedly carried out a scheme to persuade people to invest in the company, based on fraudulent documents.
Henning had been an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, before joining Marks Paneth in 2004. In 2012, he began pitching OpportunIP as an investment opportunity to a former student, who is not identified in the criminal complaint.
He allegedly claimed that the company was working on intellectual property license agreements with automobile manufacturers.
But there were no such deals, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in the press release. The licensing and escrow agreements were fraudulent.
Eventually, the former student and another unnamed victim invested $2 million in OpportunIP, according to the criminal complaint.
After the victims transferred $1 million to a Texas bank account in 2015, the complaint states, $875,000 was wired to a New York City account controlled by Henning and $25,000 was transferred to an account in the name of Henning and his wife.
The accusations in the criminal case are mirrored by allegations in a federal lawsuit filed in April by Golomb Merchantile Co. against Marks Paneth, OpportunIP and Henning.
In 2012 Adam Golomb, the complaint states, was introduced to Henning and another Marks Paneth representative. Golomb owned four automotive-related patents and he agreed to give OpportunIP exclusive rights to licensing his intellectual property.
Over the next five years, Golomb Mercantile claims, Henning allegedly perpetrated a series of frauds “through fabricated communications with potential buyers and licensors.”
Golomb Mercantile said Henning created documents that purported to show interest in its patents by Ford Global Technologies, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Renault and Nissan.
In 2016, for instance, Henning allegedly provided a detailed but phony analysis of a proposed term sheet. “Henning then provided details of an imaginary negotiation with Mercedes, Renault and Nissan representatives.”
Henning and another Marks Paneth representative portrayed the accounting firm and OpportunIP as a single entity, Golomb Mercantile claims, that operated from offices in New York City and Westchester.
Golomb Mercantile said it relied on Henning’s credentials, as presented on the Marks Paneth website.
The accounting firm has promoted itself as a top forensic accounting service. A 2012 press release, for example, quotes Henning as stating, “Law firms, corporations, insurance carriers, nonprofits and government entities rely on Marks Paneth for our sophisticated forensic accounting, commercial litigation, fraud investigation, fraud protection and intellectual property services.”
In 2016, Henning was named Partner-in-Charge, Advisory, a role that included fraud and forensic accounting services.
For five years, Golomb Mercantile charges, it lost the opportunity to market its intellectual property. It accuses the firm and Henning of fraud and breach of contract and it is demanding at least $75,000 in damages.
The criminal case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s White Plains office. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.