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 an allegation that you have committed a misdemeanor or felony that involves fraud or dishonesty—you need to take action fast because 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 accountants and also handles client grievances and disciplinary matters.
The Board has jurisdiction to investigate complaints from consumers that allege violations of the many laws and rules that govern accountants. Some of these regulations include Board and state statutes, professional or financial conduct rules, criminal laws at every level of government and the protocols of national professional accounting organizations.
Allegations may fall into several categories ranging from the accountant’s competence to their integrity. Violations of confidentiality, ethical standards or fiduciary duty may also be grounds for disciplinary proceedings. Moreover, the Board is within its rights to pursue action based on any criminal conviction related to accountancy.
The Board also has jurisdiction to open an investigation when an Arizona CPA self-reports any of the following:
- Revocation or suspension of license before a 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 accountancy.
- Criminal convictions for accounting or tax-related crimes, theft, fraud, etc.
The Board does not investigate claims involving issues surrounding fee regulation.
Arizona Board of Accountancy Complaint Process
The Board receives complaints from members of the public, who may file them anonymously. When the Board has the jurisdiction to proceed on a complaint, 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 corresponding 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 six to nine months, which can seem like a lifetime for the accountant under investigation and is another good reason to have trusted counsel by your side.
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.”
- Issue a disciplinary order with sanctions, such as probation, revocation of license, reimbursement of costs, or anything else the Board deems appropriate.
- File a formal complaint and notify the accountant of a hearing.
If your case proceeds to a hearing, you should have an experienced attorney with you 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. An experienced attorney may be able to help you avoid outcomes like this.
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 focus 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.