Russell E. Mackert, Brent Oncale, David White, Eric M. Kruz, and Tomme Bromseth sentenced to significant prison sentences for $100 million fraud scheme!

August 1, 2011

Five employees for A&O Resource Management Ltd. and various related entities – including two executives – were sentenced recently for their roles in a $100 million fraud scheme with more than 800 victims across the United States and Canada.

The sentences were announced by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride and Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.

The five individuals were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne.  Russell E. Mackert, 52, general counsel for A&O, was sentenced to 188 months in prison; Brent Oncale, 36, former owner and founder of A&O, was sentenced to 120 months in prison; David White, 41, the former president of A&O, was sentenced to 60 months in prison; Eric M. Kurz, 47, a wholesaler of A&O investment products, was sentenced to 60 months in prison; and Tomme Bromseth, 69, an A&O sales agent in the Richmond area, was sentenced to 36 months in prison.

“The impact of this massive fraud on many of A&O’s investor victims has been disastrous,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride.  “Hundreds of elderly investors invested their life savings with A&O and saw it all vanish in an instant.  These investors were not looking for quick cash, just a safe alternative to invest their retirement funds.  The safety, security, and no-risk nature of the investment was critical to the sales pitch, and it was all a big fat lie.”

“Brent Oncale and his co-conspirators operated a sham investment company that turned fraud and deceit into a business model,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “They stole millions from hundreds of unsuspecting investors, pocketing huge sums for themselves. Today’s sentences reflect the severity of these cowardly and costly crimes.”

All five men pleaded guilty in the fall of 2010 and early 2011 for their roles in the fraud scheme at A&O, which falsely marketed life settlement products to investors, many of whom were elderly.  The conspirators at A&O defrauded investors by making misrepresentations about A&O’s prior success, its size and office locations, its number of employees, the risks of its investment offerings, and its safekeeping and use of investor funds.

When state regulators began to scrutinize A&O’s investment products, conspirators manufactured a sham sales transaction to “sell” A&O to an offshore shell corporate entity named Blue Dymond and later to another offshore shell corporate entity named Physician’s Trust.  However, A&O and Physician’s Trust was still secretly controlled by A&O principals and their conspirators.

It was a bold scheme that saw Mackert, 52, create sham companies, make up the name “R.J. Stephenson” as a fictional representative, hire an actor who pretended to do due diligence on a sale, and slip $10 million in cashier’s checks past customs in Fort Lauderdale to deposit in a secret trust account in Nevis.

On June 6, 2011, the hedge fund manager of A&O, Adley H. Abdulwahab, 35, of Houston, was convicted by a jury in Richmond, Va., of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, five counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, five counts of money laundering and three counts of securities fraud.   A founder of A&O, Christian Allmendinger, 39, was convicted by a jury on March 23, 2011, of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, two counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, two counts of money laundering and one count of securities fraud.  Abdulwahab is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28, 2011, and Allmendinger is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 14, 2011.  They face up to 20 years in prison on each count except the securities fraud counts, on which they face up to five years in prison.


Burr Oak Cemetery ex-director – Carolyn Towns – sentenced to 12 Years in Prison! What did she do and Why? Comments are welcome!

July 10, 2011

Perhaps now this chapter of the history of Burr Oak Cemetery located outside of Chicago can be put to rest – much like people would want for those buried there.  Unfortunately Burr Oak, at least in recent day, has been anything but a place of rest rather it was a place where hundreds of graves were dug up and resold.

The former director of a Chicago-area cemetery Carolyn Towns, 51, who ran the Burr Oak Cemetery when the allegations surfaced in 2009, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to all charges against her, including dismembering a human body and theft from a place of worship, according to state prosecutors in Cook County, Illinois.


In an effort to sell more property (grave spaces) prosecutors allege the grave diggers would exhume bodies, crushing vaults and caskets before dumping human remains at the cemetery’s trash site.  They then would  “double stack” graves, in other words  they would bury existing remains deeper into the ground before placing new remains in the same grave site.

In a CNN report the following is stated:

Towns “is very remorseful, not only for the pain she caused her family, but the families of people who have loved ones at Burr Oak,” defense attorney Susana Ortiz said, according to CNN affiliate WLS. “She accepted responsibility for the allegations in this case, and she would just like to put this behind her and move on with her life.”

As part of the grueling investigation, the CNN report goes on to say:

At the time, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said the scene at the cemetery was disturbing. “I found bones out there,” he said. “I found individuals wandering aimlessly looking for their loved ones who can’t find them.”

The investigation also extended into “Babyland,” a section of the cemetery intended for children. Dart said he talked to countless women who could not find their children.

Authorities also discovered the original glass-faced casket belonging to 14-year-old Emmett Till, piled in a garage filled with lawn care equipment.


An Associated Press article provides a clearer explanation as to the motives behind the Burr Oak debacle.  “Prosecutors say Towns stole more than $100,000 from the corporation that owned Burr Oak by keeping the payments for burials and having workers stack bodies or dump remains in unmarked mass graves.” Some published reports say the amount taken was more than 300,000.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, “Towns’ attorney Richard S. Kling said the money she stole fed a terrible gambling addiction, and blinded her sense of what she knew was right.”

As a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, and also a person who is actively involved in the Death-Care industry, I see, all to often, that when three things come together: (1) Need; (2) Opportunity and (3) Rationalization – it creates the PERFECT STORM for fraud.  To be clear, just because those three things are present does not mean that Fraud will occur, rather it means that the conditions are right for the ethical person to make the unethical choice that can lead to illegal activities and fraud.  As I speak to groups internationally the significant question that comes up is not what happened – that is generally evident by the facts, but rather what motivated the perpetrators behavior in the first place?

It appears that Towns had a need (according to her attorney – support a gambling habit).  Towns also had opportunity as the director of the cemetery she had the power to authorize the maintenance worker to perform inappropriate and illegal conduct (they could have refused, but often in subordinate roles they will not assuming they are protected by doing what their boss tells them).  Lastly, Towns was so likely caught up in the illusion she created that she had no ability to see reality – hence she could rationalize her behavior.

None of this makes what she did right!  Not at all, but rather it, in simple form, shows what might have contributed to her mindset that what she did was right.

The judge in this case got it right!

“The victims in this case are essentially the public,” he said. “The defendant’s actions in these crimes caused ­­— while not physical harm ­— I believe irreparable emotional and psychological harm.

“There is no way to repair the harm done to those grieving families and friends.”

If you were a victim of Carolyn Town actions…feel free to comment here so others can know your feelings!


Ronald Munkeboe Defense Attorney arrested for DUI – hum…funny how folks tend to get caught for what they are know for!

July 10, 2011

So we’re clear…it is not my intention to make fun of or find joy in anothers plight.  Yet, this article shows something that, if you look closely, is a trend when it comes to negative choices and their painful consequences.  Perhaps a psychologist would call it human nature…or perhaps there is another description for it, but more times than not, the negative choices that we make in life tend to revolve around the positive things we naturally do.

Think about it…Bernie Madoff was a brilliant investor and yet his negative choices centered around a Ponzi scheme or his financial work.  John Edwards indiscretions centered around his campaign.  My choices were focused around theft and failure to pay taxes on stolen money, and I was a CPA.  So, it’s no surprise that a DUI attorney would find his legal challenges related to – A DUI!

Here’s the report:

A Nashville DUI attorney was arrested late Tuesday night after nearly running over a Metro police officer as he sped out of a Bellevue gas station.

According to the police affidavit, Officer Mary Taylor saw Ronald Munkeboe pull into the Shell station at the corner of Charlotte Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard and watched as he picked up a tall can of beer from his console and took a sip.

Taylor reported Munkeboe was unsteady on his feet as he walked into the convenience store and she confronted him when he returned to his vehicle.

After identifying herself as a Metro officer, Munkeboe asked her if she was on duty, according to the affidavit.

After Taylor replied yes, and asked him to step out of his car, Munkeboe replied, “I’m alright”, put his vehicle in reverse and sped out of the parking lot.

Officer Taylor was nearly struck in the process.

Munkeboe, 45, was tracked to his home on nearby Wheatfield Court.  He admitted to drinking six or seven beers and was arrested.

He was booked into the Metro jail on charges of DUI and aggravated assault of an officer, among other charges.

Munkeboe graduated from the Nashville School of Law in 1999 and serves as a criminal defense attorney in Nashville with the firm Middle Tennessee Law, according to his Web site.

What are your thoughts?  Do you know Ronald Munkeboe?  Is this just a simple mistake on Munkeboe’s part or a pattern of behavior?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to submit to the officer rather than almost run over him?  After the consequences of his actions becomes clear, don’t you think Munkeboe will have a hard time in the court room defending DUI clients since law enforcement officials likely won’t forget his encounter with one of their own?

Information on his background is here:


James Ray – Self-Help Guru and the Power of Influence… The Sweat Lodge Deaths

June 29, 2011

An interesting article was recently written by Kent Greenfield.  The Title: The “Sweat Lodge Guru” Guilty Verdict: Recognizing the Deadly Influence of Authority.  Greenfield stated, “the jury understood that sometimes people are actually not responsible for their own decisions when they are under the powerful psychological influence of authority figures.”    A like to Kent’s article is here.

In the article Greenfield states:

Toward the end of the retreat, the “warriors” were to stay alone in the desert without water or food for thirty-six hours, followed by a return to camp for a two-hour “purge” in a sweat lodge, vaguely modeled after structures used in some Native American religious ceremonies. There was barely space for the fifty participants to squeeze in around a fire pit, kept hot by fresh coals brought in by Ray’s assistants. Ray sat outside the tent flap, keeping it sealed.

[Update: Some readers with knowledge of the event indicate that Ray was inside the tent rather than outside during the sweat-lodge ceremony. The police report after the event indicates that Ray was “sitting in a chair in the shade” outside the tent, but it is unclear in the report whether he was there for the entire event or only at the end. Other news reports are unclear as to his location.]

About halfway through the ceremony, some of the participants started to become ill. Ray urged them to press on. As the heat grew more oppressive, one man tried to lift up one of the walls of the lodge to allow fresh air to circulate, but Ray chastised him. When some people vomited, Ray explained that vomiting was good for them. Ray hovered by the door, intimidating people if they tried to leave. A few people struggled out, but most stayed. “Play full on,” Ray insisted. “You are not going to die. You might think you are, but you’re not going to die.”

At the end of the ordeal, several of the participants were indeed near death. Two died that evening; another fell into a coma and died a few days later. In all, almost half of the participants ended up in the hospital suffering from injuries as severe as scorched lungs and organ failure.

What happened? Why did people stay in the lodge, risking their lives? Any of them could have left at any time, but did not. Ray did not exert physical force.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Greenfield answers his question – WHY – by citing a 50+ year old study referred to as “the famous Milgram studies.”  And article in the New York Times defines the studies and raises interesting questions.  Here’s the link to the Times article:

In the Times article, Dr. Thomas Blass stated, “The power of the Milgram work was it showed how people can act destructively without coercion,” he said. “In things like interrogations, we don’t know the complexities involved. People are under enormous pressure to produce results.”  Greenfield postulates that the “Sweat Lodge Participants” did things against their own safety in order to produce the results that were either expected by Ray or perhaps themselves since they paid large sums of money for the experience.

Greenfield goes on to state:

The “warriors” may have seen the sweat lodge purge as a test of courage. In hindsight, we understand that the purge was seen that way only because Ray had identified it as such. Staying in the lodge was in fact dangerous and harmful, with no real benefit. It was courageous only in the way that forcing yourself to break your own finger with a hammer is courageous. The genuine act of courage was to question Ray’s methods, ask about the risks, demand care for those in distress, and leave the lodge. But that demanded wherewithal to challenge the authority figure. It is a measure of the difficulty of such a challenge that most people in the lodge were more willing to risk death than push their way through the tent flap.

And it is a measure of the jury’s understanding of human nature that they held Ray responsible, rather than the victims themselves.


Is Greenfield right in his assumption – the sweat lodge participants did so out of blind trust of Ray?  Were the participants victims of the Milgram model?  Did Ray use an undue and unsafe power of influence over the folks who paid for the experience?


Jurors will consider their testimony in determining whether aggravating factors figure into James Arthur Ray’s sentence. Ray was convicted on three counts of negligent homicide.  A finding of aggravating factors could increase Ray’s sentence. Probation also is an option.


What do you think the sentence should be in this case?


James Ray – Guilty of Negligent Homicide – What’s Next for the Self-Help Author? What’s to be Learned from this Tragedy?

June 25, 2011

At times even the best intentions can result in unintended consequences.  The question here is whether Self-Help author and speaker, James Ray, became blind to the risks and was too focused on the outcome?  This week Ray was found guilty on three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people who died at his sweat-lodge event near Sedona in October 2009.

A charge of negligent homicide could carry penalties of up to 11 years. He was found not guilty on three counts of the more serious charge of manslaughter.

Three participants in the sweat lodge died: Kirby Brown, 38; James Shore, 40; and Liz Newman, 49.

It took jurors a bit less than eight hours over two days to reach their verdict.  When the verdict was announced, Ray was not taken into custody but rather allowed to remain free on bail.

On Tuesday the jury will hear from both sides regarding aggravating factors in advance of sentencing.  Found guilty of negligent homicide, Ray could be eligible for probation.  If aggravating factors are found, the defendant could be sentence to 3.75 years per count. Aggravating factors include being convicted of more than one offense, and mitigating factors, which could reduce a sentence, include whether a defendant has no prior convictions.

The sweat lodge was the culmination of a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” retreat near Sedona, for which some 50 participants had paid up to $10,000 each to attend.  Participants in the sweat lodge gathered in a long, low, wood-framed structure covered with blankets and tarps. Stones were heated on a fire outside, then brought in by volunteers before each of eight roughly 15-minute rounds and placed in a hole near the center. Ray controlled the length and number of rounds, the number of stones used and how much water he poured over them to create steam.

James Ray conducted these sort of ritual processes – this was old stuff to him.  People flocked to him to for the experience and knew that there were risks.  Yet, none anticipated those experiences would include their death.  So…with all the publicity what are the practical ramifications?  Did Ray become callous to the risks and fail to see the obvious warning signs as people passed out?  Is it possible that we can become so caught up in the illusion of what we do that we miss the obvious?

And, regardless of the Jury’s guilty verdict – do you think Ray should serve time in prison or be sentenced to probation?


Ethics Mr. Weiner? My What a Tangled Web We Weave when we Tweet our wiener and then Deceive!

June 7, 2011

There are times when actions taken defy explanations!  This is the case with “the talented Mr. Weiner” – oops…that should read “the lying Mr. Weiner!”  First you tweet a picture of your wiener (covered up of course) and then you try to cover it up?  What?  This is beyond a Comedy Central South Park script.  Only in real life can  you find something this bizarre!

From the movie Porkys (with minor modification): “I can identify that wiener,” yet early on Mr. Weiner was challenged with clearly recognizing who’s wiener was in the tweeted picture.

Sensational?  Yes!  Worthy of this blog – well only in a few ways.

It is not my intention to tear someone down when they have been foolish in their choices.  As an ethics speaker, my opening line is – “Every Choice Has A Consequence!”  That is true and like Representative Weiner, I, too, have had to face the consequences of my choices.  Perhaps they were not a embarrassing as his, but the consequences were every bit as great.

Now called upon to resign, embattled and embarrassed Anthony Weiner is just now beginning to experience the consequences of his Tweet!  “The chairman of the Republican Party said Tuesday that Rep. Anthony Weiner should resign after admitting to sexually charged online relationships with several women and lying about his misdeeds.”  Beyond calls for his resignation, in a Washington Post article the following was stated:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has written to the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee formally requesting an investigation into whether Rep. Anthony Weiner broke House rules, after the New York Democrat admitted that he had repeatedly liedto cover up his inappropriate communications with several women online.

“On June 6, 2011, Representative Anthony Weiner disclosed conduct which he described as inappropriate,” Pelosi wrote in the letter, which she sent Tuesday to Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (Calif.). “An investigation by the Ethics Committee to determine whether the Rules of the House of Representatives have been violated is warranted.”


The issue for me isn’t what the consequence should be.  I am not the judge nor jury…that is for others to decide.  Rather, for me the entire conversation centers around choices and consequences!  To put this into perspective, I was talking today with a client for whom I’ll be speaking soon.  Folks with the Florida Association of Counties have asked me to come and speak at their annual meeting on ETHICS.  They, like many around the nation, have seen the devastating impact that unethical choices have on elected officials, government employees and all connected with them including their families.  In fact, this article was sent to me today that outlines the serious impact of our ethical or UNETHICAL choices.

Over a ten year period over 800 public officials were convicted on charges and that number does not reflect the much larger number of folks that did not face prosecution due to challenges with cases or circumstances where the violation could be resolved without public prosecution.

But in a time when things move more quickly than ever before, the actions we take today may very well make the headlines tomorrow.  The Washington Post describes Weiners actions as follow: ”

Here is what we’ve been dealing with: We’ve been dealing with four sad, grainy photos of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) in various states of undress, looking pathetic in the pathetic way exclusive to men who are trying their best to look sexy. He sat shirtless at his desk. He sat shirted on his couch. In one particularly artful photo, he sat next to a picture of a dog in a sweater and held up a piece of paper with an arrow pointing to his own face. It said, “Me.” He apparently sent these photos to a single mom named Meagan Broussard, who responded with her own grainy pouts. He also texted with several other women.

He was guilty, but of what?

Here is what we are dealing with: We are dealing with the gray space where fidelity meets Facebook and with the boundary between our “real” lives and our online lives, which is constantly being pushed, and never where you expect it.”

Weiner contends that his actions were private and personal.  He used his own computer and it had nothing to do with his role as a United States Representative.  All that may be true, but it doesn’t change the action(s) he took and the judgment surrounding them.  The problem is two fold: (1) the choices we make do have direct and profound consequences (I know as I’ve experienced them in federal prison) and (2) in this day and age, the speed at which we make our choices and receive our consequences makes taking the time to think about them much more profound.

Again, best stated in the Washington Post article:

But 20 years ago, Weiner would have had to load his Nikon with film before pointing it at his crotch. He would have had to take this film to the Fotomat, wait 24 hours before picking it up, find an envelope, lick a stamp. In every preceding era, there were built-in checkpoints, moments in which one could ask oneself, “Is this a good idea? Does she want to see my dog in a sweater? Am I a congressman? Should that influence my decision?”

There was, in fact, a literal red flag: the one you flicked up on the mailbox to signal to your postal carrier that your correspondence was ready for the world.


Well, for Representative Anthony Weiner – I don’t know, but I suspect that he’s soon be out of office.  This is far to public and too political for it to die a quiet and quick death.

From my end, as I prepare to speak at the Florida Association of Counties meeting, I am confident that many in the room will identify with choices and consequences and perhaps, when faced with someone who has been there and done that, perhaps they will think (that’s the operative word – THINK) before they go off half cocked and do something stupid like tweeting one’s wiener!


When Ethics and Achievement Based Evaluations aren’t in Alignment or Why follow Ethics when Cheating Pays Better?

March 15, 2011

Last week I was speaking at a conference and during a lunch break on of the attendees said, “Wow, business must be great for you with all this interest in ethics and all.”  I must admit I was humored by her comment, because on the surface it would appear that firms of all shapes and sizes would be interested in ethics and ethical behavior.  Reality is, however, many give lip service to the idea, but their expectations from employees pushes the “need” button and starts the potential for a pattern of unethical behavior.

The following represent excerpts from an article in USA Today regarding cheating on standardized tests.  Mind you, in not all cases were the students the ones cheating.  See the following excerpts:

In 2008, teacher assistant Johanna Munoz helped her Orlando-area fourth-graders on the state achievement test.

According to investigative documents obtained by USA TODAY, Munoz erased wrong answers and whispered corrections while she was helping non-native English speakers with difficult words. She snapped her fingers in a code students understood to mean they should correct an answer.

While the teacher was out of the room, Munoz warned the students “not to tell anyone, not even your parents, what I did.” If they told, she warned, they “would fail fourth grade.”

This is high-stakes testing. The standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law have become one of the most important — and controversial — ways to measure a student’s progress, a teacher’s competence, a school’s success and a state’s commitment to education. That can be a heavy load for an assessment built on paper booklets and bubble sheets.

At Groveland Elementary in Groveland, Fla., where Munoz taught, at least one child told a parent about getting answers to the test, and the school began to investigate. Munoz pulled students out of class and again warned them not to tell. But one by one, the students confessed.

“You could almost see the relief in their face(s) as they let go of this burden,” says Groveland Principal Dale Delpit. One fourth-grader who initially defended his beloved teacher later blurted, “I lied!” in front of his classmates, tears streaming down his face, records show.

Munoz resigned after the school district concluded that she cheated and recommended that the school board fire her. She denies giving her students any answers and says she was never alone with them in the classroom.

“I have no clue why the kids said I helped them. I think one said it, then they all did,” says Munoz, 28, who was proctoring the test for the first time. She is now a day care worker.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND…perhaps a law enacted with the best of intentions, but a law that might have at its core the seed for the application of unethical behavior for both students and teachers.  And, it appears that, from experience, when outcomes aren’t matched with ethical choices – when the actions aren’t in alignment with integrity – people are naturally set up for a potential ethical disaster.


The USA Today report goes on to say in part:

Teachers cheat sometimes and so do principals, according to academic studies. Why it happens and how often — and the seriousness of efforts to stop it — are open to debate. Punishment varies from state to state, too. In an investigation of standardized testing in six states and the District of Columbia, USA TODAY found that an infraction such as casually coaching one student can carry nearly the same punishment as deliberately changing answers for a whole class.

In an Arizona State University survey published last year, more than 50% of teachers and other educators admitted to some kind of cheating on Arizona’s state tests. The authors of the online survey of more than 3,000 educators defined cheating broadly — from accidentally leaving multiplication tables on classroom walls to changing answers.

USA TODAY examined hundreds of “misadministration” and “irregularity” reports from state Departments of Education in Florida, California and Arizona. Such reports, which cover everything from missing test booklets to a teacher’s whispering answers to pupils, do not come to conclusions about whether there was cheating. That determination is usually left up to the school district or the state after an investigation.

Florida has one of the most rigorous reporting systems in the country. Yet in 2009, the state had only 112 reports of “compromised tests,” and just 12 of those reports indicated an allegation of intentional cheating by educators. In a state with 341,000 teachers and staff, that’s a minuscule fraction.


Whether it’s fraud (unethical behavior at it’s most serious) or behavior that is perhaps less severe, the three components are typically always there.  NEED, OPPORTUNITY and RATIONALIZATION.  If there is a need (good student results for example) an opportunity (teacher proctored tests) and rationalization (well, this is ridiculous we shouldn’t have to deal with these tests anyway – or – I’m a good teacher and I don’t think these tests should determine my pay increase or fate) – then there is a reasonable chance that a person who is by nature ethical might take the unethical road too often traveled…and every choice has a consequence.

Here’s another excerpt from the USA Today story:

Robert Hamann, a veteran social studies teacher, had been volunteering to help students at Scarlet Oaks Career Center in the Cincinnati area. So he already knew the senior taking the graduation-mandatory writing test.

Confused by the test instructions, the student asked for help. He told her to use the strategies they had discussed, and she began to string together a written answer. With each halting sentence, she looked to him for approval and he told her to write it down.

“In a moment of trying to help this kid, I kind of lost myself,” Hamann says of the 2005 incident. “This was what we had been doing in review. … This kid is in 12th grade trying to pass a ninth-grade test. This is her last shot. So, you’re explaining, explaining, explaining, and I think I gave her too much information.”

Hamann reported himself immediately. He got no breaks: His teaching license was suspended for three months; he now works as an administrator in another Cincinnati-area school.

“I didn’t think I was, at the time, violating any rules, but now … years later, it’s obvious I was,” he says.

Investigators acknowledge that without a confession like Hamann’s, some cheating is impossible to detect, because it often involves only a brief conversation between teacher and student.

It’s “a fairly simple operation. All one has to do is lean close and whisper,” says Christine DiDonna, coordinator and school counselor at Groveland Elementary in Florida. She has helped conduct several investigations, including the one involving Munoz, the former teacher.

To avoid expressly giving answers, some teachers have resorted to codes. At a California elementary school, the phrase “toilet paper” meant a student should subtract or “wipe away” a number in a math problem. In other states, a teacher would cross her arms if a student marked the wrong answer.

Kimberly Richter, a fifth-grade teacher at Schwab Elementary in Cincinnati, admitted to pointing at incorrect answers on the math test in 2008, but she said it was only to get the kids back on track. Many had quit paying attention 30 minutes into the two-hour-plus test. The school already was slated for closure, so better scores weren’t going to help.

“I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t think it would matter,” says Richter, who insists she never gave out correct answers. “I didn’t think it was going to blow up in my face like it did.”

Richter’s 25 students had to take a makeup test and her license was suspended for six months. She no longer teaches in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Upton reported from Florida for USA TODAY; Ryman from Phoenix for The Arizona Republic; Amos from Ohio for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Contributing: Jack Gillum of USA TODAY in Washington, D.C.


Ethics…well that should be a high priority, yet, by our actions – results weigh higher than ethics when it comes to doing the right thing – at least enough of the time to  warrant more questions.  In a New York Times article the following examples were given about cheating and unethical behavior by adults in school settings.

¶At a charter school in Springfield, Mass., the principal told teachers to look over students’ shoulders and point out wrong answers as they took the 2009 state tests, according to a state investigation. The state revoked the charter for the school, Robert M. Hughes Academy, in May.

¶In Norfolk, Va., an independent panel detailed in March how a principal — whose job evaluations had faulted the poor test results of special education students — pressured teachers to use an overhead projector to show those students answers for state reading assessments, according to The Virginian-Pilot, citing a leaked copy of the report.

¶In Georgia, the state school board ordered investigations of 191 schools in February after an analysis of 2009 reading and math tests suggested that educators had erased students’ answers and penciled in correct responses. Computer scanners detected the erasures, and classrooms in which wrong-to-right erasures were far outside the statistical norm were flagged as suspicious.

The Georgia scandal is the most far-reaching in the country. It has already led to the referral of 11 teachers and administrators to a state agency with the power to revoke their licenses. More disciplinary referrals, including from a dozen Atlanta schools, are expected.

John Fremer, a specialist in data forensics who was hired by an independent panel to dig deeper into the Atlanta schools, and who investigated earlier scandals in Texas and elsewhere, said educator cheating was rising. “Every time you increase the stakes associated with any testing program, you get more cheating,” he said.

Perhaps it’s time we disconnect the three variables that open the door for cheating or unethical behavior.  If we can disconnect – need from opportunity from rationalization – then the outcome can’t by nature be unethical behavior or cheating.


Choices and Consequeces: Solona Islam quits job in battle to make ends meet – Pleads guilty to Prostitution.

March 4, 2011

Sometimes all is not as it seems.  Described as a teacher – prostitute, Solona Islam has found herself in a very public debate over the choices she made in order to meet her desperate need for money.  Every choice has a consequence and featured nationally in various media outlets is not what Ms. Islam expected – I’m quite sure.

According to news reports:

A high school teacher in Little Rock has resigned after school officials learned she pleaded guilty in November to a prostitution charge.

McClellan High School algebra teacher Solona Islam, who had been put on paid administrative leave, told she resigned because she didn’t want to have the school district involved in her personal matters.

The 27-year-old was arrested Oct. 29 on misdemeanor charges of prostitution and operating a business without a license but Police Sgt. Cassandra Davis said the school district was not notified because the charge was not a felony.

Islam said she was desperate for money and originally thought she was just going to work for a dating service. She pleaded guilty on Nov. 5 and was given a suspended 90-day sentence and a $640 fine.

School officials told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that they finally learned of the plea from a reporter and suspended Islam on Wednesday.

Islam, who was in the fifth year of her teacher career, told that she hopes this attention doesn’t affect her ability to find another job.

Choices and consequences!  As I read this story I began to recall those choices I made that, like Solona, began a road to recovery.  In my book – SECOND CHANCES – I stated:
I had rationalized my actions and certainly could correct any choice I made. I wasn’t a bad person, just a smart one, I thought. I knew how to beat the system. Feeling so invincible, I was soaring high; I believed that nothing could touch me. Little did I know.
I can’t personally speak for Solona Islam, but I can imagine that she lived this dual self never really expecting to get caught – thinking that she could walk away at any time.  But, often we find that lessons come at us when we least expect them and in ways we never consider.
While on Earth, we have a great opportunity for growth. Unfortunately, many of the lessons contained in experience are hidden from our conscious view within our subconscious mind. Because of the veil placed over humanity, most of us function with only a dim awareness of our purpose or mission. Life is our teacher, through which we receive many experiences. At some point, as we grow, the lessonsshow themselves. Then we can reflect on our experience and reap the consequences of our lessons.
I have come to understand that a situation that is less than joyful is there to teach us important lessons. We can learn from the lessons presented and gain insight and growth. That’s our choice. To progress and learn, however, it is helpful to express our conscious intent to do so. The reality is that unless we recognize the lesson, events may continue unfolding until the lessons intensify. We must remain open to the teachings and gifts we are receiving in order to grow and evolve.
As we grow in our spiritual journey, we can progress to the point that we step out of our bodies and become conscious observers. At that point, we begin to sense that we’re more in control of the situation than we imagined. By looking from the outside in, we can make a choice to respond in a way that serves our highest good. Self-awareness, in part, means that the veil has been partially lifted as we progress through our life lesson.
Perhaps before we quickly judge the humanness of Islam’s choices, we can for a moment look at the divinity of her life and know that deep beneath the choices shown are wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.

Christmas in Prison – Inmates remembered or forgotten? Second Chances book Excerpt by Chuck Gallagher

December 15, 2010

Today I shipped a copy of my new book SECOND CHANCES to an inmate in prison.  Seems that someone cared enough about this man to want to send him a Christmas present – the gift of potential – the gift of how to turn Adversity into Opportunity – the gift of how to change your life.

As I packaged the book for shipment, it caused me to reflect on my first (and thank God only) Christmas in prison.  It’s been 15 years now and yet I can vividly remember that time and the strong emotions I was feeling as Christmas approached.  All to often we can get caught up in the wrongs that folks have done (and, yes I was a wrong-doer) and we lose track of the tragedy that all face when dealing with the consequences of the choices we make.  Here in 2010 Bernie Madoff’s son Mark is just another example of the pain and brokenness that all who are associated with bad choices experience.

For those who cling to self-righteous judgment, allow me this moment to share my experience – to give my readers a brief glimpse or view into the inside of prison at Christmas…

SECOND CHANCES book excerpt:

On Christmas morning, my first and, as I thought, hopefully my last in prison, I lay in my bed feeling an aching in my chest. The pain was not from a physical ailment. Rather, the pain was an emotional ache that hurt to the very core of my soul, perhaps more deeply than any physical pain I ever experienced before. Although Christmas was my favorite time of year, this year it was the most painful time, and I was not alone in those thoughts. By this time, Buck and I had developed a close bond. Even he found Christmas morning difficult, and he had seen six of them come and go before I got there. I couldn’t imagine what that was like.

Five hundred men in this prison facility and on Christmas day, most of them would shed a tear. Being in prison doesn’t make anyone immune from pain and loss. On days like today, it magnifies the pain and loss. Just like them, as I lay motionless in my top bunk bed, I found myself thinking with tears streaming down my face. I cannot, to this day, say why the thought came to mind, but it made a powerful impression. It seemed that this “learning laboratory” had the tendency to teach at a rapid rate. At least, it did for me.

I recalled one evening, sometime back in the mid-eighties, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store I frequented in my former hometown. At that time, I was in my mid to late twenties and had a budding career. Now, I must admit, I thought that was an odd thing to recall on Christmas morning in prison, but this is what came to mind.  Looking back, there was clearly a reason.  The memory was crystal clear. I had walked into the store quickly to buy some steak and shrimp, having told my wife I would pick up some on my way home. We were to grill out that night, and I knew it would save her a trip. Little did I know that something so simple would provide such a profound lesson. Frankly, I had forgotten the experience until that day─Christmas morning in 1995.  As I entered the checkout line, the clerk, a female around my age, spoke to me.

“Chuck Gallagher. You’re Chuck Gallagher.”

“Yes.” Somewhat startled, I responded tentatively, realizing I had no idea who this person was and how she knew me. Here I was, standing in my suit, having just finished a workday at the office, and now I was being identified by a stranger at the grocery store.

“I’m Suzie,” she said, as if I should know her. I did catch her name as it was on the badge she wore on her grocery store smock. Even though she knew me, for the life of me, I had no clue who she was. Not only did I not know her name, but her face was also unfamiliar. While I tried not to show my unfamiliarity, my face must have given it away.

“We went to high school together,” she exclaimed, as if that should somehow jog my memory. “I read about you often in the paper. You seem to be doing so well.” Noticing my wedding ring, she then asked, “Do you have any children?”

“Yes, one,” I replied, smiling at her as I acknowledged her obvious warmth. I was just trying to be nice and carry on conversation, even though inside I just wanted to check out and move on. Then I asked what, in retrospect, was a dangerous question, “Do you?”

Little did I know that those simple two words would change the course of this unexpected visit.  With my question she responded, “Yes, three.” And with that, she stopped the process, even though we were in the express lane. She reached under the counter, removed her pocketbook, and proceeded to take out her wallet, wherein she had two pictures each for three children─and that was just the beginning.

Standing there, I could tell that the people in line were perturbed at her for the lengthy explanation and at me for even asking. Frankly, I wasn’t excited either. I didn’t remember her and I was just being nice. In reality, I just wanted to get out the door and get home. As she began to wind down, I knew not to ask any further questions.

“It’s so good to see you,” she said as she handed me the receipt for my purchases. “Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime.” I smiled and quickly walked away.

As I walked to the Mercedes I was then driving, I gloried in self-righteous thoughts. How important I was. She had read about me in the paper. I was ‘somebody.’ All of this time away from high school and the highest rung of the ladder she had aspired to was a check-out chick at the local grocery store. That thought was judgmental, ugly, and turned out to be profound.

Yet, on that Christmas day, 1995, as I lay on my top bunk, my thoughts drifted back to that incident. I couldn’t even remember her name, yet, in my mind’s eye, I vividly saw her with her family on this Christmas day.  No doubt she and her husband shared joy as their children squealed with delight over the meager gifts Santa left. Most of the time you can’t get kids out of bed, but on Christmas morning they won’t stay in bed. The joy and love you feel as a parent, seeing those tiny little eyes light up as they experience Christmas, is hard to describe. That feeling is one I ached to have there in prison on Christmas morning.  I imagined seeing her as she prepared their Christmas meal.  As their energy began to wane, she would hold her children in her arms and tell them that she loved them. As I lay there, I imagined her gently stroking their heads as they struggled to keep their eyes open, fearing they might miss something. Gently, they would fall asleep in her arms.

All those thoughts passed as I noticed the wetness of the pillow against my cheeks. She was home with her little ones. She was more of a “somebody” than I had ever dreamed of being. She was there, and I was in prison.

As the thought passed, I knew there were still choices to make. I could wallow in self-pity, or make a choice that would brighten my day and perhaps the day of others. A part of me longed to continue feeling sorry for myself, but I chose to move past it. With that, I got up and stood in the phone line. Most of the time there wasn’t a line for the pay phone, but today, Christmas day, there was a long one. So I waited.

I waited my turn in order to make a three-minute collect call to my children.  Hearing their voices on the phone, I choked back my emotion and with the most cheer I could muster I said, “Rob – Alex, Merry Christmas boys – this is Dad.”

15 years later my sons are grown men, yet I never forget the loss I felt the Christmas of 1995.  Christmas is not about the gifts, the carols, the outer trappings that merchants wish to lure you in with.  Rather, Christmas is about sharing the deep and abiding love of God that is indwelling in each of us with others.  So where ever you are, what ever you do, make sure to take some time to reflect on who is important in your life and how you can bring love and light to them – even if it’s in the darkest of prisons.

As predicted – Wesley Snipes faces PRISON! Court rejects appeal…

July 17, 2010

Every choice has a consequence and Wesley’s choices have landed him in prison.  Do I think the sentence is a bit harsh?  Yes.  But, Snipes did more – much more – than just fail to file returns.  Rather, Snipes elected through his choices to challenge the federal tax system.  HE LOST!

There is a message here.  Whether you believe in the system or not, if you challenge the system and don’t play by the rules – YOU WILL GO TO PRISON.  I know…I was there partially for a tax crime.

For more background on this story see these entries:

Candidly it would have been a miracle for the courts to have come back with any other verdict.  A recent story on CNN is quoted as saying:

Federal prosecutors said Snipes for nearly a decade escaped paying more than $15 million in income tax returns by sending money to overseas accounts, though they acknowledged in court that the amount was in dispute.

Before the sentencing in 2008, the actor asked the court to show mercy and offered three checks totaling $5 million as a gesture of good will.

Federal prosecutors diverted the checks to the U.S. Treasury, which accepted the payment — but it wasn’t enough.

“It’s essentially a down payment, but a fraction of what he owes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Scotland Morris said at the time.


Snipes, now that the appeals courts has ruled, will be given a report date and location.  Likely, he will be sentenced to a minimum security prison and will soon find out that – even at a minimum security place – prison is still prison.  For those who call it “Club Fed” I would challenge you to try it.  Frankly, it sucks.

Snipes will be a celebrity behind prison walls, but soon will be treated like anyone else.  He is, after all, an actor.  His “tough guy” image is just an image and he will quickly learn that there are others who would easily take advantage of him.  Best advice…stay to himself and learn humility.

When location and time in announced…it will be reported.  Meanwhile, YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.