What began as a creative solution among a handful of technology firms to address recruitment issues soon became common practice in Silicon Valley. It appears the practice also became a way to enrich chief executives and other top managers.
The result is a nationwide scandal with major accounting, corporate governance, tax and disclosure ramifications. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of companies are caught up in a giant civil and criminal law enforcement sweep by the Justice Department, the I.R.S. and the Securities and Exchange Commission.