Take-Two feels heat in $$ scandal

Special committee looking into back-dating of stock options discovers "improprieties" and "incorrect measurement dates;" company will restate earnings for past 10 years.

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The execs at Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive Inc. suffered yet another public humiliation. In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today and in a statement released to the public, investors, and the press, the Grand Theft Auto and Bully publisher outlined the conclusion of an internal investigation designed to ferret out wrongdoing related to the granting of stock options.

The ferret has spoken, and it has smelled a rat.

In a statement, the company said that an independent committee found "there were improprieties in the process of granting and documenting stock options and that incorrect measurement dates for certain stock option grants were used for financial accounting purposes."

The company said it will need to "restate historical financial statements to record non-cash charges for compensation expense relating to past stock option grants," and that "all consolidated financial statements, earnings releases and similar communications issued by the Company containing financial information for periods beginning 1997 through April 30, 2006 should no longer be relied upon."

According to the statement, the internal investigation--which could negate the financial reporting of Take-Two for the past 10 years--found no misconduct by either CEO and president Paul Eibeler or CFO Karl Winters.

Along with more than a hundred other publicly traded companies (including CNET Networks, the owner of GameSpot), Take-Two is under investigation by the SEC for practices related to the granting of stock options, specifically the back-dating of options, a practice that is designed to circumvent SEC rules and invariably puts more money into the pockets of a select group of company officials. Today's statement has no impact on that still-ongoing investigation announced in July.

The publisher is no stranger to the SEC, recently paying $7.5 million to settle an SEC lawsuit brought in 2005. The SEC alleged the company had overstated financial results from 2000 to 2001.

Today's news, released before the markets opened, erased Friday's uptick. On Friday, shares in the company rose 2.9 percent to $20.10 for the day; today, Take-Two shares shed 2.4 percent, closing at $19.66.

Financial writer Herb Greenberg stated in his MarketWatch blog today, "When you see such blatant wrongdoing, you can't help but wonder (with any company) where else the company might have been acting too aggressively for its own good...[and yet] investors continue to flock to Take-Two (and other stocks) as if all is well in its (their) world. Remarkable."

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