I saw a great article in Time today entitled: How to Spot a Ponzi Con Artist? Follow the Yachts by Robert Chew. (see article here.) I must admit after talking recently to many of the folks who were scammed by Gordon Grigg, I would hear similar tales of loss and lifestyle – their loss and his lifestyle.
While many of my readers are regulars I am constantly reminded of the new faces who read this blog for the first time. Knowing that, this blog entry will be less about others and more about my past. From the past one can learn much about the future. You see, I, too, was a fraudster. That is not something I am proud of – in fact, it is a fact that I wish were not there. However, I cannot change my past, so over time I have come to embrace it, share it and learn from those mistakes. My openness is designed to bring awareness and hopefully prevent others from falling prey to those who would defraud.
THE TIME MAGAZINE ARTICLE:
The article starts with these paragraphs:
With so many Ponzis and so little time to know if you’ve been hoodwinked, there are some red flags even the most trusting investors can bank on: yachts, mansions, jets and women. If your investment adviser is dabbling in any of the above, there’s a good chance you’ve been Ponzi-ed or are about to be.
Creating the illusion of fantastic success, of course, is Chapter 1 in the Scammer’s Handbook. But many among the most egregious alleged billionaire bamboozlers, like R. Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, are taking the art of thievery to the next level. Some don’t even bother opening an investor account when new monies come in; they just go shopping. It’s enough to make Gordon (“Greed is good”) Gecko blush.
Arthur Chew is dead on when he says, “Creating the illusion of fantastic success is Chapter 1 in the Scammer’s Handbook.” Actually there, of course, is NO Scammer’s Handbook. But, Chew is right about the illusion.
As a ethics and fraud prevention speaker, I openly discuss the steps that led up to the choices I made to enter into the world of fraud. At first I stuck my toe into that world when I was behind on my house payment. I stole money from a client – tricking myself into believing I was only “borrowing” money. That was foolish – borrowing is borrowing and theft is theft, and when you take money that isn’t yours without anyone’s knowledge – it is theft.
That said, when I repaid the stolen money I also learned it was easy. I took again, with minor repayment and again and again. But to Chew’s point, the stolen funds were invested into my lifestyle. Now, I didn’t live like Bernie Madoff, but I did live well, especially for the community that I was living in.
The Time article goes on to say:
The charge alleges Walsh and Greenwood gave themselves $8.2 million in employee “advances” and another whopping $160 million for personal expenses. The complaint detailed funds’ being used for buying rare books at auction, purchasing expensive horses, laying down $80,000 for a Steiff teddy bear and providing the ex–Mrs. Walsh with a $3 million residence.
Also last week, North Hills Management, a New York City–based $40 million investment fund run by Mark Evan Bloom, was charged by the same agency with “misappropriating for personal use” more than $13 million from its clients’ fund.
While my lifestyle was nothing like that – everything is relative. I lived in an upscale home. While there I was building another home which would have been in the top 1% in my community. I drove a BMW, then a Jaguar, then a Mercedes, and finally a BMW. I purchased rare “autographs” that I deemed to be collectibles. Our clothes were top of the line and we wanted for nothing. The “illusion” was appropriate for where I lived and the level of my fraud.
As I write this I am saddened by the words. It is difficult to state what I did, knowing that I knew better all the time. I created an amazing illusion and got caught up in it myself. Having talked with many victims of frauds, just like the one I committed, I know that the fraudster, just like the victim, can be caught up in the illusion.
Now I need to be careful with what I say here – for fear that my readers might think I am trying to shift blame – I am not! But, the truth is, my crime – or the crimes of Madoff, Stanford, Grigg and others in the news today – could have been cut short if those closest to them might have been alerted by their lifestyle. In my case, I was tax partner in a CPA firm. It is fairly obvious that my partners knew what I was making from our firm. I knew their income and they knew mine. So a fair and reasonable question is – how could I live a lifestyle far more lavish than they? If we all knew our incomes, unless I had a vast inheritance – which they knew I didn’t – then the question would be where is the money coming from?
Let me repeat the question: Where is the money coming from?
When that question is asked – then there is a chance that unethical – if not fraudulent – behavior could be uncovered or discovered. So there is no misunderstanding, I am not faulting my partners for my poor choices. I made them. I am responsible and accountable for them. I paid the price for them. That being said, had anyone – my family, my partners, anyone – questioned my income or income source, I would likely have been stopped in my tracks.
Today as I speak to groups nationwide I state: “Every choice has a consequence.” I live that daily. The choice I have made over the years have all had consequences – some good and some bad. In my case, even though I made complete restitution plus interest to those I defrauded, I did spend time in Federal prison for my crimes. Again, I am not proud of that outcome or my past choices. But I am living proof that ILLUSION is a grand part of the fraud scheme.
AS ALWAYS – I AM OPEN TO YOUR COMMENTS: