Waste Management Says Its Numbers Right - Finally Company Vows to Track Down Cause of Six Years of Accounting Errors

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Byline: Dan Culloton Daily Herald Business Writer

Waste Management Inc. said it has set its books in order Tuesday.

Now it will try to go back and figure out how they ended up riddled with accounting errors dating back to 1992.

The Oak Brook waste hauler that has wrestled with management upheaval and disgruntled investors for more than a year recorded a total of $3.5 billion in pre-tax special charges and earnings adjustments in fourth quarter of 1997 to clear up six years of accounting mistakes.

The write-offs and earnings statement changes, which total $2.9 billion after taxes, forced the company to absorb losses of $1.4 billion, or $3.10 per share, in 1997's fourth quarter compared with a loss of $178,969 in the same period of 1996. For the year, Waste Management lost $1.2 billion, or $2.52 per share.

The company had warned analysts and investors last fall, when it took a third-quarter charge of $173.3 million, that it would take another charge and adjust its books after completing an in-depth audit and implementing more conservative accounting methods.

The company took the hits to restore credibility with shareholders and improve its chances of attracting a new chief executive, Acting Chairman and Chief Executive Robert S. …