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Fraud charges dropped against two former executives for shuttered Celadon

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This week, prosecutors dropped fraud charges against two high-level former executives for the shuttered Indiana trucking company Celadon.

On August 10, 2022, federal prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against William Eric Meek, former chief operating officer of Celadon Group Inc., and Bobby Lee Peavler, former chief financial officer of Celadon Group Inc., stating that “the indictment should be dismissed with prejudice, in the interest of justice.”

In December of 2019, Meek and Peavler were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and securities fraud five counts of wire fraud; two counts of securities fraud; one count of conspiracy to make false statements to a public company’s accountants and to falsify books, records, and accounts of a public company; and one count of making false statements to a public company’s accountants. Peavler was charged with two additional counts of making false statements to a public company’s accountants.

The charges were issued just days before Celadon Group Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and abruptly shuttered, leaving approximately 4000 Celadon workers jobless just before the holidays.

The charges against Meek and Peavler were related to their alleged role in a complex securities and accounting fraud scheme that resulted in a loss of more than $60 million in shareholder value.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana described the scheme in detail when the charges against the two executives were announced in December 2019:

According to the indictment, by approximately 2016, Meek, Peavler, and others at Celadon knew the value of a substantial portion of Celadon’s trucks declined in value in part to a slowdown in the trucking market. In addition, many of those trucks, which were owned by Quality Companies (Quality), one of Celadon’s divisions, had serious mechanical issues that made them unattractive to drivers, further depressing their value. Instead of accounting for this decline in truck values, Meek, Peavler and others allegedly devised a scheme that caused Celadon to conceal tens of millions of dollars in losses to its shareholders, banks and the investing public.

Their scheme involved Quality trading away hundreds of its older and unused trucks to a large truck dealer in exchange for newer used trucks. During the trades, they intentionally inflated the prices on invoices associated with those trades so Celadon’s books would not reflect the fact that Celadon’s trucks were worth significantly less than reported to investors, the indictment alleges. Although they were actually trades, Meek, Peavler, and others allegedly sought to portray the transactions as independent “purchases” and “sales” of trucks in order to avoid heightened scrutiny.

Meek and Peavler also allegedly structured one of the trades in an effort to artificially improve one of Celadon’s quarterly financial statements. Quality received approximately $25 million from the truck dealer just before the end of Celadon’s fiscal quarter, which Celadon used to pay down its debt and appear to be in compliance with certain lending agreements. Meek, Peavler, and others allegedly failed to disclose, however, that as part of this deal, Quality had agreed to pay a similar amount of money back to the truck dealer three days after quarter-end. Celadon’s quarterly financial statements made no mention of this secret agreement, the indictment alleges.

In late 2016 and early 2017, Celadon’s independent auditors began to ask questions about the truck trades that Meek, Peavler, and others had used to hide the drop in truck values. In response, Meek, Peavler and others allegedly made false and misleading statements to the auditors about the nature of the trade transactions, falsely denying they were trades and concealing the terms of these trades, including Quality’s agreement to pay money back to the truck dealer shortly after quarter-end. Peavler also directed a senior executive and co-conspirator to delete certain emails after the auditor had make a request for relevant documents.

In May 2017, Celadon announced that its financial statements issued for fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, 2016, as well as the quarters ending in September and December 2016 could no longer be relied on, not could the related reports of the independent auditor for those three time periods. Following this announcement, Celadon’s share price dropped significantly, causing a one-day loss in Celadon’s market value of approximately $62.3 million.

Celadon was founded in 1985 and was the largest provider of international truckload services in North America, operating 3,300 tractors and 10,000 trailers at the time of the bankruptcy announcement.

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