As an accountant, you’ve gone through several years of schooling and passed a tough exam to earn the title of certified public accountant (CPA). If something has happened that threatens your professional license—whether it’s a complaint filed against you or you have committed a misdemeanor or felony that involves fraud or dishonesty—you need to take action fast as your entire career could be in danger.
If the CPA licensing board has informed you that it has opened a file that concerns your license, the sooner you secure legal representation, the better. You must be careful to pay attention to deadlines, and an attorney who knows the ins and outs of the system can keep you on track.
Hiring an attorney during the process isn’t required, but a lawyer experienced in professional license defense can work with you to develop a strong case on your behalf and guide you through the process, step by step.
Types of Potential Complaints against Arizona CPAs
As part of its mission to assure “the public that the CPA profession in Arizona operates at the highest level of professional competence,” the Arizona State Board of Accountancy verifies education and experience of applicants and also handles client complaints and disciplinary matters.
The Board has jurisdiction to investigate complaints that allege violations of many different types of laws and rules that govern accountants. Some of these regulations include Board and state statutes that pertain to accountants, applicable rules of professional or financial conduct, criminal laws on every level of government and the protocols of national professional accounting organizations.
Violations may fall into the following complaint categories, according to the Board’s website:
- Independence, integrity and objectivity;
- Competence and adherence to technical standards;
- Confidentiality and records disposition;
- Violation of accountancy rules, fiduciary duty or trust;
- Advertising and solicitation practices;
- Form of practice and use of the CPA designation;
- Ethical or moral violations; and/or
- Conviction of a felony or any crime reasonably related to the practice of accounting.
The Board also has jurisdiction to open an investigation when an Arizona CPA self-reports any of the following:
- Revocation or suspension of the license to practice accounting before any state or federal agency, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
- Civil or administrative judgment that involves fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty or negligence in the practice of public accounting.
- Criminal convictions for crimes involving accounting or tax violations, theft, fraud, dishonesty, etc.
Arizona Board of Accountancy Complaint Process
The Board provides a Consumer Complaint Form through which any member of the public can file a grievance, which may even be done anonymously.
When the Board receives a complaint and has the jurisdiction to proceed, it opens a file and assigns it to either the Accounting and Auditing Advisory Committee or Tax Advisory Committee.
During the initial analysis, the existence of a complaint and the related investigation remain confidential. After the initial analysis, if the Board decides to open an investigation file, the existence of a complaint as well as its nature are made public.
The Board may choose to assign a special investigative reviewer to aid in the preparation of the investigative file. This reviewer may conduct interviews of the complainant, CPA and anyone else that informs the eventual resolution of the matter.
The Board estimates that most complaints are closed within about six to nine months, and it aims to process complaints “expeditiously.” During the process, the Board strives to keep both the CPA and complainant informed of the investigative process within the constraints of the statutory provisions that protect the confidentiality of the process.
Potential Disciplinary Action
At the conclusion of the investigation, the assigned committee will recommend to the Board any of the following actions:
- Dismiss the complaint, based on a finding of no violation.
- Issue a confidential, non-disciplinary administrative letter of concern.
- Offer a disciplinary order with sanctions that could include “probation, suspension, relinquishment, revocation, restitution, administrative penalties, additional continuing professional education, reimbursement of Board investigative costs and/or other sanctions designed to best protect the public and rehabilitate the registrant.”
- File a complaint and notice of a full hearing.
If your case proceeds to a hearing, you should have an experienced attorney at your side to defend your professional license.
CPA Reinstatement in Arizona
If your CPA license has been cancelled, expired, relinquished or revoked, you may be able to seek reinstatement of your license, though not always, which is why it’s crucial that you have proper legal advice whenever the future of your CPA license is involved. In 2016, for example, two former Arizona CPAs were convicted of crimes related to ERISA fraud, and as part of their plea agreements, they agreed not to seek reinstatement of their CPA licenses.
The procedure to follow for getting your CPA license back depends on how you lost it in the first place, but generally, you will need to complete an application, pay both a filing fee and registration fee and provide proof that you have completed the requisite continuing education requirements and have not engaged in any conduct that would have resulted in revocation or suspension of a CPA license.
If your license has been revoked or relinquished, you will have to meet additional requirements, including providing proof of rehabilitation. You will have to produce evidence that you have not engaged in any conduct that had you been licensed would have resulted in suspension or revocation; that your civil rights have been restored if you had been convicted of a crime; and that all complaints and investigations against you have been resolved.
Also, if your license has been revoked, there is a five-year waiting period to reapply dating from the date of the disciplinary order.
If you’re facing possible disciplinary action concerning your CPA license, an experienced attorney can be an invaluable ally by your side from the beginning and also allow you to remain focused on addressing any issues concerning your ability to practice. If you’ve received notice of a complaint against you or are subject to self-reporting of certain offenses to the Board, give us a call at (602) 548-3400 or send us a message today so we can get started on your defense.