Business Ethics: It is really about more than avoiding prison! Is there a little Bernie Madoff in each of US? A Guest Blog by Corey Richardson

July 24, 2011

A “Man of The Age” financier is surrounded by mystery and adoring members of the moneyed elite hungry for some of his wondrous returns. This paragon of the business class with The Midas Touch accepts only a few choice clients who seem to wither in his presence as they deliver their accumulated wealth into his magical hands – no questions asked. The returns are beyond belief, and for very good reasons. Unbeknownst to all, this wizard of the market is juggling fraudulent accounts to pay for his lavish lifestyle. The only trading is from their hands to his. The ruse comes tumbling down and the entire nation is stunned.

The scoundrel portrayed above is Charles Dickens’ character, Mr. Merdle of Little Dorrit, first published in 1857. Dickens foretold the Madoff scandal verbatim in his quintessential corruption tale, but this iniquitous business leader is an age-old archetype, and we, like Dickens, find it easy to vilify him due to the magnitude of his crimes; No stealing a crust of bread for this villain. At its polar opposite, take the “common criminal,” the savage monster seen today in T.V. cop shows, the local news, and innumerable B-movies. This standard is bloodthirsty, drug- crazed, and has a soul as black as night.

Dickens’ work is also replete with such characters.  The beauty of these caricatures is that we cannot find ourselves in either. They conveniently represent “other.” All the while we can sit comfortably in our living rooms with our sense of moral rage because we do not bilk venerable charitable funds and we do not cook meth in our kitchen. Yet, it can be argued that if we truly strive for a better world, then we need to go well beyond the knee-jerk reactions of these scenarios, and find ourselves in the moral conundrums.

Stricter regulations of the financial sector and more accountability, gun control legislation, sensible criminal sentencing laws, affordable drug rehab, etc., are important factors, but are only part of the solution. Even focusing on improvements to education and social services, which have been shown to be extremely important in crime prevention within certain groups, is still only a small part. To thoroughly understand what drives people as different as Kenneth Lay or a Gov. “Blago,” as well as a gun-totting inner-city kid with a pocket full of dope, we must understand root causes of criminal behavior, thus pointing the way for our next generation of leaders- and evaluate ourselves in our own business affairs.

“What causes criminal activity, and. who are these people who commit crimes against our society, such as … ” taking items from work, “fudging” on taxes, paying for non-business activity with a business account, inflating an insurance claim, switching labels at a store, producing unsafe products, “padding” a bill, or any number of violations of legislated standards for personal gain committed by everyday people.

Due to perception, universally known within psychology as the fundamental attribution error, these crimes are given little thought by those who commit them.   Joe Citizen justifies and minimizes these activities as “bending” the rules. And this is where we see the attribution error in effect: we tend to overestimate the role of personal factors and underestimate the “influence of situations in others, and we overestimate the situational factor and underestimate the personal factor in our own circumstances. It is the age-old “We judge others on their actions, and we judge ourselves on our intent.” Or I’m bending the rules, and he is breaking the law.

This phenomenon is not unique to the middle and upper socioeconomic strata, and equally applies to the poor. A drug dealer feels that his activities, though illegal, are still a legitimate means to earn a livable wage within his community.  The same could be said of any accountant or lawyer who “tweak’s” the system to make a little money. So, getting a television set off the back of a truck in the ghetto looks much like another’s decision to not claim income on a second job. It is all about perspective.

As we address the problem of the business class, we can facilitate the much-needed change in perspective with some cold, hard facts. Business leaders do not need to be as extraordinarily crooked as Madoff to affect a, huge societal burden. Study after-study demonstrates that “white collar” or corporate crimes, as well as middle-class crimes, ranging from tax evasion, insurance fraud, price fixing, inventory “shrinkage” (what a euphemism!), etc., weigh much more heavily than the number one Index crime, conventional property crime. Index crimes are known also as “street crimes.” They are highly visible crimes, easy to categorize and count, and are overwhelmingly committed by the poor. White collar crimes, by contrast, are difficult to detect and rarely prosecuted. Still, the economic yearly cost with respect to property crimes of the corporate America are approximately twenty times greater than conventional property crimes of index offenses, or a difference of $200 billion to $10 billion annually.

Having completed a fully accredited MBA program via a distance-based education format, I need to share that – this accomplishment – was done from an 8′ by II’ prison cell.  I was an inmate and like most “on the inside,” I readily justified my criminal acts, which occurred within my professional life, as did the drug dealer or the burglar.  So, as I approached my Business Ethics coursework, I did it with the secure knowledge that I committed a crime. This perspective, and the belief that my professors would judge my answers too with this in mind, gave me a keen eye in studying ethical queries in business.

I believe that when most students answer questions related to ethical foundations or detail their understanding of their own personal values, they do it from a perspective that they themselves could not possibly commit a crime. Such activities, such as smoking pot in the college dorm or not claiming wages from a summer job paid “under the table,” are simply not considered as crimes, which they are. Again the attribution error: “My (illegal) acts are not illegal, and certainly not unethical.

Everybody does it. It is no big deal.” And so forth. To cultivate a true ethical North in business, we must broaden our perspectives, and when an ethical dilemma arises, we can perceive it as such. No different from operations management or strategic planning. An appreciation of multiple perspectives — proffers a grand wealth of insight that will carry our next generation of leaders.

As a convict, my daily life is a direct result of criminal acts related to my work. In my studies, I can clearly see the untold millions that are affected by one unsafe product, but I can also appreciate how one man can justify criminal acts as a bad business decision, rather than a pathological act for profit with no respect for the law. To open the eyes of CEOs early in their training to the easy comparisons between corporate crime and “street” crimes, as well as offer tangible proof of the enormous societal burden of white-collar crime, would be of immeasurable value. In teaching business ethics, we must go well beyond the bland terms and definitions and the prosaic personal litanies of “What I value in the world.” We must make the coursework truly applicable and create managers and business leaders who intuitively understand how ethics within Corporate America are just as important, if not more so, as profit margins and supply chains.

Clearly, when I understand myself, I can understand Bernie Madoff or Kenneth Lay.  I believe the same could be said of us all. The equation is simple: Unbridled Financial Gain plus Opportunity, then Add the Likelihood of Detection and Fear of Prosecution. Embracing the truth of unlawful acts in our everyday lives, be it business or personal, is much harder to do than to merely vilify in a fanciful Dickensian way the corporate or government leader who betrays our trust, or even the dope dealer of the inner cities. But it will help to create leaders who view all of their work and life through a lens of principled behavior. We must begin to see the situational nature of all criminals acts, and therein lies the beginning of meaningful solutions. It is not enough to alter the number of opportunities to steal or the severity of the requisite penalties, but to go further by changing what stealing looks like by different people, changing the perceptions of illegal gains, and infusing the intrinsic value of ethical behavior.

When we see that all of us have a little of Bernie Madoff in us, only then can we begin to view our world more clearly and begin to make authentically ethical decisions as we lead our companies and organizations. We may even make significant changes in our personal lives.

Business Ethics: It is really is about more than avoiding prison.

Corey Richardson Biography:

Corey John Richardson is a former clinician, who holds a Master’s Degree in PA Studies from the University of Nebraska’s College of Medicine (Omaha) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science/PA Certificate from the University of Florida’s College of Health Related Professions (Gainesville). He holds an MBA from Salve Regina University’s Graduate Business School (Newport, RI) and has completed doctoral health science coursework with a focus on prison healthcare at Spalding University (Louisville, KY). Mr. Richardson’s work has been incorporated into criminology courses at the University of Cincinnati and has been included in CURE’s congressional file on correctional healthcare in support of HR 3710. He has performed medico-legal consulting and has legal experience assisting prisoners in various civil and criminal actions. As a pro se litigant, he won a precedent-setting case on appeal against the Kentucky DOC and its Abuse of Power (published at Richardson v. Rees, 283 S.W. 3d, 257). He has also worked as a facilitator in numerous psychotherapeutic and rehabilitative programs.

Mr. Richardson has written widely about prison issues and sobriety for publications such as Spotlight on Recovery, Cell Door Magazine (the official publication of the National Death Row Assistance Network), T’he Kentuckiana News, Perspectives (the official journal of the Association for Humanistic Psychology), The Grapevine (Alcoholics Anonymous’ international publication), The Long Term View: A journal of informed opinion (Massachusetts School of Law at Andover), OUTlooks (Canada’s GLBT magazine), and others. Several of his essays have been published in the book Voices Through The Wall and he won 1st Prize in the Ford Foundation’s 2OO9 national writing competition Think Outside the Cell, published in Love lives here, too. (2010)

Mr. Richardson maintains his writing at coreyrichardson.blogspot.com and may be reached at coreyjohnrichardson@gmail.com. In 2001, he was convicted of crimes related to practicing medicine without a license and served 122 months in the Kentucky Department of Corrections; his supervising physician was given a probated sentence. Mr. Richardson has 13 years of continuous sobriety on July 14, 2011.

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Cuomo sues Lewis of Bank of America… Did Lewis act unethically or is Cuomo grandstanding?

February 9, 2010

Reported on in Bloomberg…(see the full article here).

The former Chief Executive Officer of Bank of America, Kenneth Lewis was sued by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for supposedly defrauding investors and the government when buying Merrill Lynch & Co.  Recently, the bank agreed to pay $150 million to settle a related lawsuit by U.S. regulators which is being considered by U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff.  Last year, Rakoff called the SEC’s initial settlement neither fair nor reasonable and questioned why the bank’s executives and lawyers weren’t sued. The agency said it lacked evidence to bring claims against specific individuals.

Cuomo also sued the bank’s former chief financial officer Joe Price and the bank itself for not disclosing about $16 billion in losses Merrill had incurred before it was bought by Bank of America in an effort to get the merger approved.  Afterward, Lewis demanded government bailout funds, Cuomo said.

“We believe the bank management understated the Merrill Lynch losses to shareholders, then they overstated their ability to terminate their agreement to secure $20 billion of TARP money, and that is just a fraud,” Cuomo said yesterday during a telephone press conference. “Bank of America and its officials defrauded the government and the taxpayers at a very difficult time.”

Interestingly enough, Cuomo is pursuing individuals at the bank while the SEC has declined to do so. The suit is being filed under the Martin Act, a New York securities law that permits both civil and criminal penalties.

Cuomo said he coordinated efforts with the SEC. “Our case will bring individuals to justice and will make a point to people that this is a very serious matter,” he said yesterday. “When you settle a case the way the SEC is settling today, the upside is you implement immediate regulatory reforms.”

Last month, the SEC expanded its claims against the bank, accusing it of failing to disclose Merrill Lynch’s mounting losses before holding a shareholder vote on the acquisition.

The proposed fine would be distributed back to harmed shareholders, the SEC said yesterday.

The SEC settlement “addresses the judge’s concerns of penalizing shareholders so it’s likely to pass muster,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “At the same time, it’s hard to show any monetary damage to shareholders at this point because the Merrill deal has turned out to be a good acquisition for the bank.”

The conduct of Brian Moynihan, the bank’s current chief executive, is not under investigation, said David Markowitz, Cuomo’s special deputy attorney general for investor protection. Moynihan, who became general counsel in the middle of events, was candid with Cuomo’s office in the probe, Markowitz said.

According to the complaint, Lewis and his lieutenants Moynihan and Price calculated that if they threatened “to get out of the deal, the federal government would counter with more taxpayer funds out of a concern for the greater economy.”

The U.S. injected $45 billion into Bank of America through the purchase of preferred shares, including $20 billion approved after the acquisition in January 2009 to keep the deal from collapsing. The bank redeemed the shares in December.

“We find it regrettable and are disappointed that the NYAG has chosen to file these charges, which we believe are totally without merit,” the bank said in a statement. “In fact, the SEC had access to the same evidence as the NYAG and concluded that there was no basis to enter either a charge of fraud or to charge individuals. The company and these executives will vigorously defend ourselves.”

Lawyers for Lewis and Price denied wrongdoing. “The allegation that Mr. Price deliberately caused Bank of America to withhold from shareholders information they were entitled to know is utterly false,” said William H. Jeffress Jr. and Julia E. Guttman of Baker Botts LLP in Washington, in a statement.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Is the decision to sue Mr. Lewis and other Bank of America Executives by Mr. Cuomo a political move that has more to do with advancing political aspirations than bringing justice?  Or, is Mr. Cuomo the only person to have the fortitude to bring justice to an unethical action by BofA executives?

“The decision by Mr. Cuomo to sue Bank of America, Mr. Lewis and other executives in connection with BofA’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch is a badly misguided decision without support in the facts or the law,” said Mary Jo White of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York, who represents Lewis. “There is not a shred of objective evidence to support the allegations by the Attorney General.”

Bank of America agreed to buy Merrill on Sept. 15, 2008, after just 25 hours of due diligence, according to the suit. When the board of directors met that day to approve the transaction, they thought they were going to buy Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the suit says.

WOW…is that true?  If so, and it is proven, then one would have to wonder about not only Mr. Lewis actions, but the actions of the Board of Directors. Who makes a decision like this with only 25 hours of due diligence?

Cuomo said Bank of America scheduled a shareholder vote to approve its plan to buy Merrill on Dec. 5, 2008. By that date, Merrill incurred losses of more than $16 billion, Cuomo said. Bank of America’s management, including Lewis and Price, knew of the losses and knew that more were coming, Cuomo said.

After the merger was approved, Lewis told federal regulators the bank couldn’t complete the deal without a taxpayer bailout because of accelerated losses from Merrill, Cuomo said. However, between the time the shareholders approved the deal and the time Lewis sought the bailout, Merrill’s losses only increased by $1.4 billion, Cuomo said.

Greed, Hubris

“The conduct of Bank of America, through its top management, was motivated by self-interest, greed, hubris, and a palpable sense that the normal rules of fair play did not apply to them,” Cuomo said in the lawsuit. “Bank of America’s management thought of itself as too big to play by the rules and, just as disturbingly, too big to tell the truth.”

But wait…is Bank of America the only culprit in this grand scheme?  We (the taxpayers) lost substantially more with AIG, so where is Mr. Cuomo when it comes to that grand deception?  I respect the grandstanding claiming “greed and hubris” but I’m not sure why the BofA – Merrill merger is being focused on when there seems to be much bigger fish to fry.  Any help here?

The suit claims Bank of America received more than $20 billion in taxpayer aid as a result of their misleading efforts. Cuomo’s statement said the bank can’t explain why they didn’t disclose the losses to shareholders though the merger “would have threatened the bank’s very existence if there had been no taxpayer bailout.”

Cuomo also claims management failed to disclose to shareholders it was allowing Merrill to pay $3.57 billion in bonuses. Nor did the bank’s management tell the bank’s lawyers about the extent of Merrill’s losses before the shareholder vote.

Here’s what appears to be the sad truth…  Lewis will be defended by attorney’s for Bank of America.  BofA received bailout money.  Merrill is now part of BofA.  And, even if found guilty, more than likely any fines assessed will be paid from BofA’s insurance.  Perhaps…this is all posturing for something else.  Bank of America likely was wrong, but I’m not sure that Attorney General Cuomo is truly motivated by bringing justice…

But then again…I could be wrong.  YOUR THOUGHTS?


The Great American Ponzi Scheme! Is Bernie Madoff any different than our Government?

January 4, 2010

Wouldn’t it be nice to share some good news?  I’d like to think as we enter this new decade that we could learn from the past and move boldly into the future with the assurance of a bright tomorrow.  Well, tomorrow may not be so bright if we don’t stop and look at our choices.

Every choice has a consequence!  I say that often as I address groups around the nation on ethics and ethical choices. From my perspective it seems that we, as a nation, are facing a serious ethical quandary.  Do we continue the rabid spending that has defined this past decade or do we accept the responsibility for where we are and elect to live within our means?

I know…I know – economists from all parts of the country would quickly argue with me that debt is sustainable and that we only have a problem if we can’t pay it back.  My response:  Bull.  As far as I am concerned…we are acting unethically and the consequences will be disastrous if we don’t soon take corrective action.

Facts: In 2000 our debt was a bit more than $5.5 Trillion.  By 2005 our national debt was around $7.5 Trillion and by the beginning of 2010 – well our national debt had crested above $12 Trillion.  That’s right – our national debt more than doubled in one short decade.  And, with the aging of the largest group of people in the history of this nation – the Baby Boomers – we will see nothing but increased debt for the next several decades unless we take dramatic action.

I ask is Bernie Madoff any different than our Government?  In Bernie’s case his victims didn’t know what was happening.  I bet if they did – they wouldn’t have invested with him.  In the case of our Government – we the taxpayers know – and yet, we still seem to be O.K. with the actions our elected officials take.  The crime is the same…the only difference is – it’s not a crime if you allow it to take place.  Folks, a Ponzi scheme is a Ponzi scheme no matter how you color the picture.

For a quick view of my video blog on this subject click here

The question is – what are we willing to do?  If we pay the promises made in the past to those who are aging to receive them…we might find ourselves bankrupt.

Share your opinions on the solutions to this problem through your comments.  Who knows…perhaps someone in big GOVERNMENT might be reading and take note.


AIG Bonuses – Now Is Not The Time For Irresponsible Rhetoric Senator Grassley

March 16, 2009

aigthumb How many adjectives can we use to describe the feelings associated with the news that AIG paid $165 million in bonuses when the Federal Government spend over $170 Billion – yes, that is Billion, in bail out money to save the ailing giant?

There is outrage and many in government leadership are expressing their opinions about how they feel about the audicity of AIG to effect those payments.  That said, it is also important to make sure that leadership on both sides of the isle don’t get carried away with their comments.

CNN reported the following comments:

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa didn’t appear to be joking, however, when he spoke with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, radio station WMT.charles-grassley

“I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little better toward them [AIG executives] is if they follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, ‘I am sorry,’ and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide,” he said.

“And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide.”

Now I know that emotions are high, but come on Senator Grassley – that is political rhetoric and frankly is uncalled for.  I can’t believe for a minute that Grassley would, in fact, want anyone to commit suicide.  After all – we are talking about money and money can be replaced – human life can’t.

Perhaps as the night wears on cooler heads will prevail.  The right and ethical thing to do is reconsider how and when bonuses should be paid to a company that – but for the help of the taxpayers – would be bankrupt and out of business.  Further, more – this whole scenario should serve as a less for other businesses that line up to receive their bailout money.

Bonuses should be paid for outstanding performance.  When performance is lacking and, in fact, when a company faces the very real possibility of not continuing, then different choices should be made.  As a business ethics speaker, I understand Grassley’s frustration, but would hope that he would be more careful with his words.   Now is the time for level headed leadership, not sound bites spoken to garner media attention.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


AIG Bonuses – Ethical or Insane? Business Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher Comments…

March 16, 2009

I want to make this clear – I am pro business!  I think that free enterprise is the life blood of our economic system and I fully support people making lots of aigmoney.  But, I have to question whether the payment of upwards of $165 million in bonuses to AIG employees is ethical or just insane?

QUESTION ONE:

The arguement in favor of AIG paying the bonuses is that the contracts that generated the bonuses were established before the economic meltdown and before AIG accepted government bailout money.  Employees who work(ed) for AIG therefore should be entitled to payment under the terms of their contract for services performed.

  • Do you agree?
  • Does the company have an ethical or moral obligation to pay regardless of circumstances?

QUESTION TWO:

AIG has accepted, according to published reports, upwards of $170 BILLION of government bailout money.  Sorry for the editoral content, but that is quite amazing by any standard that I could consider.  Nothing like that has happened in my lifetime and I’m over a half century in years.  So – here are some questions to consider:

  • Should AIG be forced to void pre-existing employment and bonus contracts if they accept government bailout money?
  • Should bonuses be paid?
  • What basis or grounds for payment or nonpayment make sense for AIG?

QUESTION THREE:

If a homebuilder constructs a home and finds that he/she cannot sell it for the asking price and, in fact, finds that the market for his product is below the construction loan – what happens?  Most of the time, the bank will foreclose and the sub-contractors, who have mechanic leins against the property, lose their time and receivable.  In other words, they lose because circumstances have changed.

  • Is AIG in the same circumstance?
  • Should the employment compensation contracts be treated similar to a mechanics lien – void through forclosure?
  • Is the government’s bailout of AIG in effect a forclosure to avoid bankrupcy?
  • Is there any reason that AIG should be treated differently than other small businesses that are unable to honor their commitments today?

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The definition of business ethics is, in business situations, the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with a moral duty and obligation.  The question for AIG is – what is the ethical thing to do?  As a business ethics speaker, there is no right or wrong answer to most situations, it rather is a function of doing the right thing considering all the facts and circumstances.  My opinion – the moral duty and obligation in this situation is to void the employment bonus contracts and accept that were it not for the taxpayers, AIG would not be in business!

Now is the time for AIG and any organization that accpets bailout money to make the tough decisions that honor the trust that the federal government and taxpayers have given them.  Look to Lee Iacocca’s example – when the government bailed out Chrysler, he took $1 as his compensation.  Perhaps the folks at AIG should take note.  One thing is for sure they are not winning friends and influencing people – at least not positively.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME!



Bernie Madoff – The Human Tragedy. Is Compassion Possible?

March 14, 2009

At the end of the movie – Saving Private Ryan – Ryan, as an old man speaks these words to his wife who walks up to his side:

“Tell me I’ve have led a good life.  Tell me I’m a good man.”

I must say that, although I’ve seen that movie many times, I am always brought to tears.  I am touched knowing that others come into our lives for a reason and, through their efforts, we find that our lives are shaped.  In Ryan’s case, his concern was living up to the sacrifice made for him and on his behalf.  Ryan wanted to know if the life he lived and the legacy he left was worth the price.

As the movie ended, I could not help but feel sadness for the tragedy that came to light some four months ago when Bernie Madoff admitted that his work wa nothing but a ponzi scheme.  As those words were spoken – lives were changed and, at least for now, not for the better.  The reality of lost investments came to light, financial futures were changed and Madoff’s legacy was forever etched in history.

THE HUMAN TRAGEDY:

From the standpoint of those who were victimized the loss is great.  But the tragedy goes much deeper than lost money.  I do not wish to minimize the loss bernie-madoffof treasure, but it is – afterall – just money.  Money can be made and often is lost.  The question is how do we react to that loss?

I heard one of Madoff’s victims on a radio clip Thursday the day Madoff was sentenced.  She said, “My life is over…”  I cringed when I heard her comments.  I, too, (admittedly for different reasons) lost everything material.  I know the feeling of loss and despair, but LIFE IS NOT OVER.  In fact, while life will most certainly change, she still has her freedom and the ability to make choices to improve her life.

One part of the human tragedy is the natural feeling of anger that lost trust naturally brings.  That anger and the negative emotion that is a part of what we hear about Madoff does little to promote joy and healing.  Perhaps over time that will come.

There is grief over loss.  In this case the loss is not only the obvious – the investments that didn’t exist, but the grief over loss is the trust that forever is gone.  Many people have come to learn the pain of betrayed trust, and that is hard to heal from.  As I have talked with victims from other similar scams, many have said that they have a hard time trusting anyone.

MADOFF’S LEGACY:

Beyond the victims, I have to say that I feel for Madoff.  I do not condone his actions – they are abhorent.  But, I feel for the man.  Imagine for a moment the feeling inside as Madoff once again crawls into his prison bed.  As a child, as a teen as a young man, never would he have imagined that the end of his life would be spent in prison.  In his early years he was able to use his intellect to benefit others and himself.  Madoff is not dumb and certainly has a vast compentency.  Unfortunately, he elected to miguide his brilliance.

Again, at the risk of offending his victims, I do not express my feelings for Madoff in support of his actions.  He has earned every night he spends in prison.  The empathetic feelings I have are for him as a human being.  How tragic that his actions have not only hurt those whom he was entrusted with investments, but his actions have harmed his family and others closely connected to him.

As a human being, it is difficult to find your life relegated to the structure and environment of prison.  Here’s a man who has a brilliant mind, who now will wake at 6ish each day, eat prison food at designated times and eat only what is offered.  He will eventually be assigned a location which will likely be a medium to minimum security facility.  It is NOT “Club Fed” – the days are filled with counts, structure and work.  You quickly lose the feeling for the outside world as contact is kept to a minimum and while you may read the newspaper, you find that reading or TV is no replacement for contact that free people have with each other.

As time goes on as he languishes away in prison, those close to him will die – but, he’ll find himself disconnected.  He will have gone from high flying financier to just another inmate.  He will withdraw for his own protection finding that the culture in federal prison is something foreign to him.  He will hear and learn things that will repulse him and there will be those who will leach on to him hoping to make him their prey.  Perhaps, they might think, “If I can threaten or endanger him, I might get some money for my family on the outside.”  He may become a target or he may just fade into oblivion.

For a time, he will continue to have notoriety as the federal government seeks to unravel the true scope of his actions.  Did his wife and/or children know?  Were they involved?  Was his accounting firm in the know or where they just incompetent?  How was he able to maintain the grandeur of his illusion for so long?  These questions and many more will arise – but all the while, the human tragedy is that someone – Bernie Madoff – through his choices is ending his life sitting in a prison cell.

Beyond Madoff – for a moment – imagine being one of his children, grandchildren or greatgrandchildren – the name Madoff is tainted.  He will be remembered for his crime – for the effect he had on the lives of thousands who trusted him – for his last days spent in prison.  If you were a grandchild – think of what happens when you enter college and for the first time the teach calls the role.  When they get to your name and say “Madoff” – think of the looks you’ll get when folks quickly begin to wonder – “is he connected to that guy”?   Their lives have been changed forever as well – and not by their doing.

Charles Ponzi created this scheme.  The name “Ponzi” is forever associated with something negative – just like the name Hitler.  As we live our lives today, the same is true with “Madoff” – his name has been etched in history never to be associated with positive thougths.

FINAL THOUGTHS:

As a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, I know what it must be like for Madoff – this his first weekend in prison.  While I wish I could say otherwise, I know because I’ve been there.   I earned my time there.  It was no fun, but punishment is a consequence of choices.  My choices led me to prison, and Madoff’s have led him there as well.

Perhaps, when the dust settles, we can all take a moment and, like Private Ryan from the movie, ask “have I led a good life?”  I pray when my life ends that I’ll be able to look back and see a life well lived.  I wonder though for Madoff if it is possible for people to find compassion while at the same time accepting that his life is prison is a clear consequence for the choices he made?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Bernie Madoff in Jail! It’s Not “Club Fed” I Know – I’ve Been There…

March 12, 2009

madoff-cp-6397978There was cheering from the crowd when Madoff was immediately taken to jail.  Emotions are running high and will do so for years to come.   But this is not a joyous day.  Many victims lives have been radically transformed by the financial crime Madoff effected.  Likewise, Madoff’s life as he knew it is over.  Leaving the comfort of normal life to go to prison is a radically different experience as well.

I know – regretably I have been there for exactly the same crime Madoff plead guilty to today.

Every choice has a consequence.  Many were victimized by Madoff et al and both the victims and Madoff, himself, are facing the consequences of choices made.

Madoff made the following comments in court today.

“I operated a Ponzi scheme.  I thought it would end quickly, but it proved impossible.  I am ashamed for these criminal acts. I always knew madoff_sketch_09031203this day would come.”

I was asked today on CBS radio – KRLD – by Ernie and Jay about the mentality of how something like this could happen.  Is it possible that Madoff just was out to steal from folks?  The answer is simply – NO.

While I don’t personally know Bernie Madoff, I know the thought process that ends in federal prison.  Madoff is a smart man.  In fact, I would say that he was brilliant in his ability to effect such a scheme successfully for so long.  That is rather amazing.  But, for a time, I suspect when he first got started, Madoff was legitimate.

To effect a fraud like this, there must be three components: (1) need; (2) opportunity and (3) rationalization.  My best guess is that Madoff had two needs that came together when he began this in the early 90’s – (a) emotional need – he would not admit that he was faliable; and (b) money – in that he likely lost money and was unwilling to admit that fact.  Hence, he entered into the second  part of creating such a fraud – he took advantage of his name and notariety to gain more money – more investors or more victims.

CNN reported: Madoff admitted that he never invested his clients’ money, and that he deposited the funds into a “Chase Manhattan” bank.

At that point, Madoff crossed the line of investing and became an outright fraud.  Amazingly, instead of continuing to invest clients money hoping for the big win, Madoff just deposited the money in the bank.  Of all revelations, that was the most amazing.  Effectively he just gave up, committed the crime and waiting until the house of cards fell.

TONIGHT FOR MADOFF:

As I type this I can speak first hand from experience, Madoff just entered a phase of life that is totally foreign and for which he is unprepared.  Likely, as he was removed from the court room, he went to processing where he removed his clothing and was issued prison issue clothing.  It is doubtful that he was madoff_jail_cell03allowed to keep much other than one set of “street” clothes that might be used for limited visiting privileges or meetings with legal counsel, etc.  He would have likely been handed his bed linens and escourted to his holding cell.   Unless because of his age he was assigned a lower bunk, he would be given the upper bunk as those with more time in the facility get the privilege of lower.  His meals would be a step above a Swanson’s TV dinner – maybe – and the routine is strict.

Counted multiple times per day, Madoff will soon find that he’s no more than anyone else incarcerated, an inmate.  Inmates will likely acknowledge him, but not consider him any more than they.  In fact, it is likely that many will avoid him fearing that what they might say to him will be used against them (they fear he’d become a snitch) in order to gain favor with the judge for a lighter sentence.

Tonight will be one of the longest nights of Madoff’s life.  He will wonder to himself – time and time again – what he has done and why.  Those thoughts will haunt him for the rest of his life, which from a free man’s perspective, has ended.

THE VICTIMS:

Now here’s where I should stop, but for whatever reason, I can’t.  I understand the anger, and desire for revenge that many feel.  It is natural as your trust has been violated.  This is no different than feeling that one has when a marriage ends with the distrust created by adultery.

Many would say that I am the least to offer advice.  Perhaps that is true, but I’m going to try.  First, from a practical perspective seek the legal help you need to recover what you can.  Know that there are possible sources for some recovery including the application of IRC Section 165(c)(2).  I am not an expert in that area, but I have a guest blog from someone who is.  Go there it might be helpful.

Beyond the legal recourse against Madoff and those involved – and I suspect that others will fall from this as well, may I say – with respect – put your loss into perspective.  We come into this world with nothing and leave that way as well.  Money – security – certainly are important, but it is afterall only material.  The longer one harbors anger or hate, the worse life becomes.  Finding the ability to recognize that Madoff will suffer and reap the consequences of his choices is significant.

Your life has changed – so has his.  No one walks away from this feeling good or whole.  The ultimate outcome, however, for you and your well being will, in large part, be a function of your ability to forgive.

IN THE LONG RUN:

Having been there, I know the pain of prison.  Some learn from their experience and others never get it.  In Madoff’s case we may never know what the true effect of his life changing experience will bring.  In my case, prison was life changing.  While I am thrilled with freedom, I understand that my time there changed my life and gave me an opportuity to do something positive today that, in fact, helps others.

Sometimes you can actually get lemonade from lemons!

As always – COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.

HERE is what Madoff read to the court.