GAO Report Shows SEC Still Lagging in Fine Collection

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In the wake of last year's corporate scandals, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has rendered hundreds of millions in fines. But will they ever collect on them?

A new report from the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the auditing arm of Congress, found that from 1997 and 2002, the SEC collected just $190 million of the $480 million in fines it levied.

GAO's report, issued Friday, found that the SEC had made progress on collecting fines from the last time GAO looked at the issue in 2001. GAO found that most of the outstanding fines involve a few big cases that are still wrapped up in court.

The SEC is taking steps to improve its database in an effort to better track payments, GAO stated in a letter to Representatives John D. Dingell of Michigan and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who are the ranking Democrats on the House commerce and finance committees.

The two wrote to the SEC urging compliance with the GAO's recommendations and asked that the Commission make better use of available collection resources housed within the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Dingell and Frank put the SEC on notice that the issue will be studied again in 18 months.

Stephen Cutler, the SEC's director of enforcement, told Bloomberg News that he expects database improvements to be complete by Sept. 30, at which time it would be easier to tell when payments have become delinquent.

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