As a business ethics and white collar crime speaker, I find that I receive invitations from around the country to talk about one of the hottest forms of white collar crime – MORTGAGE FRAUD. Rarely has this seen this much attention! I speak on it. I write about it. I blog on the topic weekly. So I am used to publicity related to my speaking events.
Imagine, however, my surprise when I receive an e-mail from an “unnamed source” who told me that my picture was on the front page of the Charlotte Observer in a Mortgage Fraud article. “Cool,” I thought guessing that somehow I must have been quoted or someone had seen a presentation.
WRONG! My picture was featured front and center as one of the main people indicted. INDICTED? WHAT? I have never been indicted for mortgage fraud and certainly, as a Dallas, Texas area resident, not in Charlotte. My first reaction was – “this must be a prank.”
“There could be no way that a major news paper could put the wrong persons picture on the front page. IMPOSSIBLE.”
Once again – WRONG. It was there – my picture – taken straight from my web site. My source was correct…I was featured as MICHAEL D. PAHUTSKI – a former mortgage broker who has been indicted on two mortgage fraud schemes.
Seems that Stella Hopkins, reporter for the Charlotte Observer, wrote the article and the photo editors were searching for pictures of those indicted. They found a photo of one of the people – Victoria Sprouse – but had trouble finding one of Michael D. Pahutski. What the photo editors did find was a blog I had written sometime back on Mortgage Fraud and Pahutski’s indictment. The former blog is here.
I suspect that in their need to meet a deadline, someone became confused with my photo, the blog and the numerous people mentioned. Both Sprouse and Pahutski were featured together in the article…so if anyone had taken the time to read they would have known that I was the author of the article – not the accused!
Wobbled by this HUGE MISTAKE – I picked up the phone from my office in Dallas and called the Observer, asking to speak to the editor. I really didn’t think I would get to that person, but better to start at the top. Of course, my call was screened with one of the first questions being: “Well can you explain to me what the problem is?”
“Sure,” I replied. “You have a picture on the front page of your paper today related to a massive mortgage fraud indictment and my picture is featured as Michael Pahutski. Do you see that?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Well,” I continued knowing this next statement would be effective. “Are you near a computer?”
Once again he replied, “Yes.”
“Then go to www.chuckgallagher.com for just a moment. You’ll notice that the photo on the front page of your paper is me – CHUCK GALLAGHER. Yet you have used my image as that of someone else. Do you see the problem here?”
His next words: “Oh my God. Let me put you on hold!”
Returning to the line he stated a retraction would be in todays paper – Thursday, April 3, 2008. Likewise, I was transferred to the photo editor who appologized profusely. The writer sent me these words in an e-mail.
Mr. Gallagher - I deeply apologized on behalf of the Observer for the error. We strive for accuracy as a top priority. This time, we fell short. A small photo of you mistakenly ran today, in our print edition, with a story about indictments in a large mortgage fraud case. I believe a correction is running in tomorrow's paper.
Oh well, everyone makes mistakes. However, it does point out that you can’t believe everything you read. Not from the Charlotte Observer, not from others and not from me. We all, reporting in some form or fashion, are putting ourselves out there by doing what we do and, in doing so, we can make mistakes. They made one – a big one I might add. But, when it’s all said and done…it did make for an interesting afternoon.
Thank goodness it didn’t happen on Tuesday as I would have sworn that someone was playing a great April fools joke.
Business ethics and white collar crime speaker, Chuck Gallagher, signing off…