For Immediate Release - February 22, 2013

Public Accountancy Board Announces Enforcement Actions

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Board of Public Accountancy today announced enforcement actions against the following individuals:

Darrin Estella, Salem: The Board entered into a consent agreement with Estella, whereby he agreed to a suspension of his license to practice as an accountant. The agreement resolved an allegation that Estella had been disciplined by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a non-profit corporation created by Congress to oversee auditors of public companies, and barred from being an associated person of a registered public accounting firm for at least two years. An investigation by the PCAOB found that Estella was involved in an incident in which he and employees under his supervision improperly amended, removed, added, or back-dated working papers in advance of a regulatory inspection. Under the terms of the consent agreement, Estella returned his license to the Board and agreed to serve a suspension until August 11, 2013.

Jacqueline Ann Higgins, Quincy:  The Board entered into a consent agreement with Higgins whereby she agreed to a censure of her accountant license. The agreement resolved allegations that Higgins had been censured by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a non-profit corporation created by Congress to oversee auditors of public companies, after admitting that she had improperly amended, removed, added, or back-dated working papers in advance of a regulatory inspection.  Under the terms of the consent agreement, Higgins is prohibited from practicing as an independent certified public accountant until June 30, 2014.

Stephen J. Mullen, West Peabody:  The Board entered a Final Decision and Order by Default against Mullen, revoking his license to practice as a public accountancy professional. Following the expiration of his license in 2004, Mullen allegedly engaged in the practice of public accountancy by preparing tax returns for clients on several occasions, and also failed to return client records within a reasonable time upon request. Despite multiple attempts by the Board to contact him Mullen failed to respond to the allegations, leading to the default decision.

Richard D. Vitale, Stoneham: The Board entered into a consent agreement, whereby Vitale agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and had his license placed on probation for one year. Vitale acknowledged that the Board could find that he committed an act discreditable to the profession of accountancy when he submitted an “Alford plea” in response to misdemeanor criminal charges that he violated state lobbying and political fundraising laws in 2007 and 2008. Under the terms of his agreement with the Board, Vitale admitted only to submitting the plea in response to the charges and did not admit to any wrongdoing. Vitale previously had been found not guilty of federal charges regarding his alleged involvement in a scheme to steer state contracts to a software firm in exchange for payments.  

Michael Walsh, Concord: The Board entered into a consent agreement with Walsh resolving allegations that he operated his public accountancy practice, Walsh & Associates P.C., with an expired corporate license, and that the firm was identified in two reports by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Real Estate Assessment Center as having failed to comply with governmental auditing standards. Under the terms of the agreement, Walsh agreed to serve a five-year probationary period.

The Board of Public Accountancy monitors the licensed practice of public accountancy and its related business operations to ensure that the services provided to the public are in accordance with the ethical standards of Massachusetts General Laws and Board Regulations.  The Board also seeks to ensure that licensees have complied with all continuing education and peer review reporting requirements necessary to renew their licenses.  Currently, the Board licenses about 17,280 individuals and businesses in the public accountancy profession.

The Division of Professional Licensure (DPL) is a regulatory agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. The agency is responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance and the integrity of the licensing process for more than 365,000 licensees in trades and professions under the jurisdiction of 31 boards of registration. DPL also licenses and regulates private occupational schools.  

Consumers are urged to visit the DPL’s website at www.mass.gov/dpl  and select the “Check a Professional’s License” link to determine whether a professional with whom they may do business is licensed and in good standing.  Follow DPL on Twitter @MassDPL.

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