Sujata “Sue” Sachdeva pleads Guilty and agrees to $34 million in Restitution!

July 29, 2010

From SIFY News:

A former Indian-American executive faces up to 20 years in jail after pleading guilty to stealing $34 million from stereo headphone manufacturer Koss Corporation for her ‘irrational and excessive buying sprees’.

Sujata Sachdeva, 46, a former vice president of finance at Koss Corporation, pleaded guilty to all the six counts of wire fraud, for which she was charged early this year, before a Milwaukee court in Wisconsin Tuesday.

US District Judge Lynn Adelman accepted her guilty plea to all six counts of felony fraud in connection with the federal government’s $34 million embezzlement case against her and set a sentencing date of Oct 22.

Each charge against Sachdeva carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Each charge also carries a mandatory special assessment of $100 and a maximum term of supervised release to follow any term of confinement of up to five years.

She has also agreed to pay an estimated $34 million in restitution to Koss under a plea deal that calls for at least five years in prison, although prosecutors may recommend a much longer sentence.

Sachdeva has been free on a $50,000 signature bond since she was charged in December.

The government plans to auction more than 22,000 items of luxury clothing, shoes, jewellery, furs and art objects that Sachdeva bought with the stolen money. Koss will receive the proceeds of the auction. No date has been set for the online auction, which needs the approval of the court.

After the hearing, her attorney Michael F. Hart stood beside Sachdeva on the steps of the federal courthouse and read her statement, according to Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.

In it, Sachdeva, 46, said she most regrets the pain and public embarrassment she caused her husband and two young children. Ramesh Sachdeva, a paediatrician who is an executive with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, was in court Tuesday with his wife.

‘Ms. Sachdeva engaged in irrational and excessive buying sprees that escalated over time,’ the statement says. ‘When the bills piled up, she took money from her employer to pay for her purchases.’

‘A large portion of the funds were used to pay for items that Sue Sachdeva never possessed, clothes she never wore and items she never picked up.’

WHERE FROM HERE?

Well…this was a smart move on Sachdeva’s part.  Not only would her sentence have been worse if she had tried (like so many) to go to a jury trial, but the emotional stress would have been much more straining that it already is.  Likely, her prison sentence will be longer than the 5 years she is expecting, but shorter than the potential time she could face.

On the other hand, making $34 million in restitution…well I don’t see that happening, but?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


White Collar Crime hard to Deter? Perhaps we’re trying the wrong approach says Business Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher

February 23, 2010

How do companies deter White Collar Crime?

With media reports filled with stories of “white collar crime” such as the developing Koss embezzlement story and the on-going reports related to Allen Stanford and recently sentenced Bernie Madoff, it’s no wonder that organizations are seeking to find deterrents to this seemingly growing phenomenon.

As I prepare to address a group in just hours, I came across this article in the Charleston Regional Business Journal and it struck me – “We’re going about this all wrong!”  But, before I suggest what’s right let’s look at excerpts from the article featured below.  The whole article is here:

Law school panelists: White collar crime hard to deter

By Andy Owens
aowens@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 22, 2010

Crime pays, at least if you’re a midlevel executive wearing a white collar.

Panelists at a symposium on crime and punishment said that fraudsters find the risk of being caught typically worth the potential reward for all but the most top-level executives.

Using Enron and WorldCom, along with more recent financial fraud, as examples, the panelists — a federal prosecutor, a CPA and a former Securities and Exchange Commission official — said deterring white collar crime is difficult, partly because criminals are typically caught after years of high living and typically only the top executives receive the harshest penalties.

COMMENT #1: The first problem I see is that none of the panelists have any background as a criminal.  Each represent a segment of society that intellectually is connected with and perhaps understands “white collar crime”, but none are “white collar criminals.”  Therefore, they see things from their perspective but have no practical experience in showing others how to deter crime.  See the list below and then ask yourself, how could any of these folks really identify with the commission of a crime and therefore how to prevent it?

The symposium, held by the Charleston Law Review and the Riley Institute at Furman University, took place Thursday and Friday in downtown Charleston. It included a keynote address by the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Ala., as well as a series of panel discussions by scholars, judges, lawmakers, lawyers and public advocates.

‘Like the Whac-A-Mole game’

For example, in 2000, the FBI reported that the number of suspicious mortgage fraud cases was 3,515. By 2008, that number had risen to 63,713. Even eliminating false alarms, the numbers are growing at an enormous rate, said Daniel V. Dooley, CPA and a former senior partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“This trend is staggering,” Dooley said. “This is like the Whac-A-Mole game.”

COMMENT #2: Why is this trend up?   To someone who has been involved in white collar crime the answer is obvious.  From 2000 to 2008 we experienced unprecedented economic growth.  Everything was financially rosy.  We acquired more debt.  We lived more extravagant lifestyles.  We created a larger life illusion.  Therefore, two things were present to fuel the white collar crime growth: (1) more money to steal; and (2) greater need (the first component that exists for the creation of a white collar crime).  The crimes have always been there, its the economic decline that has caused them to come to the surface.  Think of white collar criminal as fish (bottom feeders if you will).  When the water is high you don’t see them.  They are there all right, but out of sight.  But in a drought when the water level recedes they come to the surface.  In an economic recession, when the money recedes you see white collar crime come to the light.  The principle is easy.

In a recent paper, Dooley and Mark Radke, a former SEC official and partner with Dewey & LeBoeuf, wrote that this can be a big challenge to the argument that lengthy prison sentences deter fraud.

“Most financial criminals don’t think about it, and they don’t think they’ll get caught,” Dooley said.

The 150 years in jail that Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff received will likely deter only him from committing similar fraud, Dooley said, and even those who consider they might get caught know that they might have a decade or more to live off ill-gotten gains before anyone notices.

COMMENT #3: Will the long prison sentence deter the crime.  Well with Madoff getting 150 years and a fellow from Maryland sentenced in Texas to 99 years for a $10 million crime – folks are taking notice.  But, Dooley is right.  Most white collar criminals don’t think they will get caught.  Why?  First, once you have satisfied your NEED…you begin to RATIONALIZE your behavior.  That’s the tricky part cause if you can convince yourself that you’re not committing a crime – you begin to believe your own ILLUSION (your own lie).  So…if you can help people understand the impact that PERSONAL RATIONALIZATION has in the commission of the crime, you likely can begin to prevent the behavior that leads to such an ILLUSION.

Radke thinks the SEC should act less like a prosecuting agency and more like a gatekeeper that could shut down rip-off artists even without a case that could go before a court. He said a lot of the damage that’s being done could be stemmed if the SEC would use its regulatory power to freeze assets and bar fraudulent activity from occurring.

“You don’t have to build a case beyond a reasonable doubt” to act, Radke said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart agreed that a more regulatory approach would be helpful in stopping financial criminals, but he said it’s impossible to know if large prison sentences deter the trend of financial fraud because you can’t measure the incidence of someone not committing a crime.

“Who knows whether they deter others or not?” he said. “You can’t measure a crime that’s not committed. I think deterrence may be the least important factor.”

COMMENT #4:  O.K. guys – this is a very nice academic exercise, but beneficial – I doubt it.   So as a start let me provide a list of things that might help to deter white collar crime:

  1. Make it known that you, from time to time, will have random auditors reviewing departments, processes and procedures – and THEN DO IT.  For example, you might have a plant (yes, fake employee) come into a department and test the integrity of workers.
  2. Post examples of folks who have committed a crime and the punishment that they received, and without violating some perceived right – make sure that those who internally violate are known and prosecuted.  If folks feel that their indiscretion will be swept under the table they are more likely to commit the crime.
  3. Self serving statement – but hire someone other than an academic to come in and speak to your folks.  You have no idea the impact it has when employees are faced with someone who committed the crime and then did the time.  I, or folks like me, make it real and the more real you can make it the more someone will think before they take some “white collar crime” action.
  4. Consistently keep the message of “choices and consequences” before them.  With companies I consult with, I often find that different mediums shared frequently has a positive impact.  It is said that a person might see an advertisement seven (7) times before they really consider buying.  If that is true in marketing, then aren’t we marketing good behavior.  Yes…of course so!  So, we need to approach behavior marketing the same as product marketing.  All we are looking for is a positive outcome.

FINAL QUESTION:  Do you think that “white collar crime” can be deterred and if so, how?  YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Reverend Raleigh Trammell – Southern Christian Leadership Conference Dayton head – home raided by FBI on Embezzlement concerns!

February 11, 2010

Early this month, national officials of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference requested criminal investigations by authorities in Georgia and Alabama, alleging embezzlement from the civil rights organization by Dayton’s Rev. Raleigh Trammell, the national board chairman, and SCLC Treasurer Spiver Gordon.

Today, Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized a computer and several boxes from the home of Reverend Raleigh Trammell, according to Dayton police.

Agents searched the Dayton offices of the SCLC looking for any information or evidence that could like Trammell to the alleged misuse of the group’s funds. They also raided the home of Trammell’s daughter Angela Goodwine, taking boxes and a computer from her house as well.

Trammell declined comment after the agents left his home. However, neighbor John Wilkins said: “After all of the accusations, I’m not surprised (by the searches). I feel sorry for the family that they have to go through this. Mrs. Trammell is a very nice person and I feel sorry that she has to go through this — she and her husband both.”

According to reports, the group’s treasurer, Spiver Gordon of Alabama, is also under investigation for involvement in the case.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Fred Alverson said the searches are in relation to an investigation in to SCLC financial activities. No criminal charges have been filed.

“I don’t have any reaction to that nonsense,” said Trammell, chairman of the board of SCLC’s Dayton chapter. “I have nothing to do with the finances of the organization.”

He said the SCLC finance committee is investigating the allegations.

“I’m sure when they make their report it will clearly exonerate me. Until then I’m just prepared to say it’s a bunch of hogwash,” said Trammell, who also is executive director of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance in Dayton.

Trammell and Gordon are accused of unauthorized expenditure of SCLC funds in excess of $560,000 since 2006, according to a Jan. 29 letter to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. The letter was written by Dexter M. Wimbish, who is on temporary paid leave as SCLC general counsel.

“The embezzlement includes the use of a board account with Citizens Trust Bank (in Georgia) whereby personal expenses have been paid as well as loans to Raleigh Trammell,” Wimbish wrote in the letter.

“As these persons have been reinstated, there is a fear they will continue to mismanage funds and destroy or alter records to cover up their theft and conversion.”

According to an internal review of the SCLC national board account obtained by the Dayton Daily News in a report issued earlier this month, SCLC officials questioned payments of more than $27,000 to Trammell and the Dayton SCLC chapter he leads between 2006 and 2009, including two wire transfers to a Trammell-controlled National City Bank account.

“I’ve never been paid any $27,000,” Trammell said.

In a Jan. 19 interview he denied the allegations and said “I have absolutely no knowledge” of transfers of SCLC funds to his control and “I don’t believe any such bank accounts exist.”

In a phone interview, Gordon said he only signed checks from the national SCLC account after the expenditures were approved with vouchers signed by other officials, including Trammell.

“Some of the allegations that are being made are just ridiculous,” Gordon said.

In presenting the documents in Alabama, Rocker said he was joined by Wimbish and Ron Woods, who is on temporary leave as SCLC executive director.

The two were placed on leave by the Fulton County judge who on Jan. 20 granted a temporary restraining order restoring Trammell and Gordon to their jobs until the SCLC board could meet. Trammell and Gordon had agreed last year to step aside while the SCLC investigated complaints of financial impropriety against them.

Three SCLC board members, including Rev. Wilburt Shanklin of Dayton, sought the restraining order after the investigation was publicly announced in December. Shanklin is president of the IMA and a member of Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell’s Leadership Council.

The Dayton SCLC and IMA in 2009 received at least $304,952 in taxpayer funding for local programs, including money from the Montgomery County’s human services levy; county job and family services money funneled through the Dayton Urban League and federal funding for food and emergency shelter, a program administered by the United Way of Greater Dayton.

Every choice has a consequence.  Keep in mind people are innocent until proven guilty.  However, where there is smoke there is fire…so if guilt is established there will likely follow a prison sentence.

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.


Jennifer Fox of Rapid City, SD – Guilty and sentenced to 8 Years in prison! Come on – what were you thinking?

February 9, 2010

And to think I was just in Rapid City on business…now I read this…

A Rapid City woman accused of stealing more than 150,000 dollars from the Hill City Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Service pleaded guilty in Seventh Circuit Court.

NOW REALLY…did you think you’d get by with this?  I know from personal experience – EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE…and taking money that is not yours will eventually come to light (regardless of the amount)…and the outcome is never good.

As part of a plea agreement Jennifer Fox pleaded guilty to grand theft by embezzlement with a charge of aggravated grand theft being dropped. When asked what she did in court, Fox said only that she took money that she shouldn’t have in an amount over one-thousand dollars. Fox faces up to ten years in prison.

Oops…as of this writing Jennifer Fox was was sentenced to 8 years in prison with three years suspended.

8 YEARS…for $150,000.  And she was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $159,729. The embezzlement reportedly occurred between January 2005 and February 2008.

8 years of your life is not worth the short term gain you might receive from ill gotten embezzled funds…not to mention the emotional toll that this takes on family and friends.  I sincerely hope that Jennifer finds herself while incarcerated and returns to society to make a difference.


Sujata Sachdeva – Koss former Executive Charged in $31 Million Fraud – Mental Illness Likely Defense

January 21, 2010

United States Attorney James L. Santelle announced that a grand jury sitting in Milwaukee returned a six-count indictment charging Sujata Sachdeva (46) of Mequon, who is also known as Sue Sachdeva, with six counts of wire fraud.  Ms. Sachdeva is the former Vice President of Finance, Secretary, and Principal Accounting Officer for Koss Corporation, a publicly traded company located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The indictment alleges that Sachdeva used her position at Koss to fraudulently obtain more than $31 million from Koss, which she used to purchase personal items and pay for personal expenses.  According to the indictment, Sachdeva authorized numerous wire transfers of funds from bank accounts maintained by Koss to pay for her American Express credit card bills.  In addition, Sachdeva used money from Koss’s bank accounts to fund numerous cashier’s checks, which she also used to pay her personal expenses.  Sachdeva used the money she fraudulently obtained from Koss to purchase personal items including women’s clothing, furs, purses, shoes, jewelry, automobiles, china, statues, and other household furnishings.  Sachdeva also used the money to pay for hotels, airline tickets, and other travel expenses for herself and others, to pay for renovations and improvements to her home, and to compensate individuals providing personal services to her and her family.

According to the indictment, Sachdeva sought to conceal her fraud by directing other Koss employees to make numerous fraudulent entries in Koss’s books and records to make it appear that Sachdeva’s fraudulent transfers were legitimate business transactions.  Sachdeva directed Koss employees to conceal her fraudulent transfers as well as the fraudulent entries in Koss’s books and records from Koss’s management and auditors.

According to United States Attorney James L. Santelle “this case is one of the largest embezzlement cases ever brought in this district, and demonstrates the ongoing commitment of this office and the FBI to investigate and prosecute white collar offenses”.
Each count of the indictment carries a maximum possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.  Sachdeva, therefore, faces a total maximum penalty of up to 120 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million, plus forfeiture of the items identified in the indictment and restitution.

WELL NOW WITH THAT ALL SAID…WHY?

According to her attorney, Michael F. Hart, Esq., principal in the law firm of Kohler & Hart, LLP, and a prominent criminal defense attorney in Milwaukee, one defense planned for Sachdeva is mental health. Hart is quoted as saying, “We intend to show that mental health issues played a substantial role in Ms. Sachdeva’s conduct.”

What kind of mental health issue(s) would he be referring to?  My guess…Compulsive Shopping Addiction or Spending Addiction.  The following is a reprint from a popular web site on the subject (the full article is here).

Most of us who suffer from compulsive shopping addiction (sometimes called spending addiction) are unaware of the problem. After all, everything around us seems to be saying, “Buy, buy, buy!” So…we do! We usually discover the problem only when we run out of money. Then, sadly, we think it’s an income problem. The problem isn’t income…it’s being out of control with the outgo. We addicts tend to spend money to compensate for areas in our lives where we are emotionally out of control or damaged. I’m sure the millionaire’s wife felt neglected for all the years he was pursuing his business goals while she was left with their several children to manage. The problem is triggered by emotion and shows itself as spending but we have to understand the cause of compulsive shopping addiction in order to get a handle on the solution.

Compulsive Shopping Cause

Since most people believe the problem is income, they mis-identify the cause as something outside of themselves; their job, boss, spouse, taxes, the creditors, prices, etc. This form of denial effectively blocks any kind of solution, locking us into an ever deepening problem. Though spending is usually the main symptom, and this, triggered by emotion, the cause goes much deeper. When we continue to pile up spending, the cause is usually rooted in the Spending Cycle: 1. We start with an emptiness, or negative self-esteem; a feeling of incompleteness. 2. Signals all around us tell us if we had some thing, we’d be seen as more important, successful, loveable, or complete, etc. The signals come from family, friends, co-workers, TV, radio, the Internet…anyone who has influence over us. 3. We spend to get that success feeling, sharing news of our shrewd acquisition with anyone who will say, “oooooooo.” 4. When the bills come in we feel even more incomplete and powerless than before, starting the cycle all over again. Until we own the cause as something within us, we will never have a solution. The actual cause of compulsive shopping addiction, then, is that feeling of emptiness and low self-esteem. Solving this incompleteness is key to finding the solution to compulsive shopping addiction.

Now, assuming this is a route the defense is taking, will it be successful?  Only time will tell, but it would appear from a distance look at the facts, it would be hard to argue that she was ‘mentally’ screwed up somehow considering the lifestyle and theft that supported it.  She was educated, so there had to be something other than – oops I didn’t know it was wrong as a defense.  The interesting side of this – is whether there is legal support to find her not guilty by reason of mental insanity?

Now, I’m not a lawyer (I’m a business ethics speaker)…so I would welcome those who are to share their opinions regarding using Compulsive Spending Addiction as a defense.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Sujata Sachdeva’s Embezzlement from Koss – Is Koss At Fault?

January 21, 2010

Sujata Sachdeva – former vice president of finance and secretary allegedly embezzled nearly $31 million from the company through unauthorized purchases.  The result – well a domino effect that has caused Koss, the company is known for manufacturing headphones and audio-related equipment to halt it’s stock trading.  The ripple effect continues with restatement of financial statements for multiple years back and, of course, Sachdeva has been indicted.  Likewise, Koss has now fired Grant Thornton LLP, its independent auditors, and is now working to fix a mess that could leave the company near bankruptcy.  (You can bet that Grant Thornton’s errors and omissions carrier has been notified of a prospective claim).

The question here is – who is at fault or shares responsibility in this massive financial scandal.

Now, I can hear folks (as you read) saying, “Dummy, Sachdeva – obviously.  She’s the one who embezzled the money and spent it on a lavish lifestyle.”  And, frankly, to most that is obvious.  But, the larger question is – how does a person who made approximately $200,000 per year live a lifestyle like she lived and no one in the company stop and take notice asking – HOW DOES SHE DO THAT?

PERSONAL EXAMPLE: (Note: I am not proud of the following, but it serves as an excellent example and today I use my personal experience to help others with ethical choices and fraud prevention).

As a CPA, in the mid-’80’s, I embezzled money from clients trust funds.  The funds were used for a lavish lifestyle – expensive cars, expensive home, expensive clothes, etc.  Now, having inadequate internal controls, I saw a way to perpetrate my fraud and did so for a number of years.  Of course, every choice has a consequence and like, Bernie Madoff, there was a time when a card was pulled from the house of cards I built and they all came tumbling down.

People asked…once they found out I was a liar and thief, what did you do with the money.  Then, as if a veil had been lifted, they looked around and there it was – spent on my material surroundings.

The question that arose then was – how was it that my partners in the CPA firm who know my income – along with their – didn’t question how I was able to live such an extravagant lifestyle when they couldn’t afford to do the same?  Was it possible that the fraud could have been caught or stopped if simple questions had been asked?

THE KOSS QUESTION:

According to published reports, it was American Express that helped catch Sachdeva’s activities. Amex noticed that Sachdeva was paying for large balances with wire transfers from a Koss account.  Dumb move, but most who create a fraud make dumb moves at some point.

BizJournals is reporting that two East Coast law firms are preparing class-action lawsuits against Koss for Sachdeva’s actions. Specifically, the problem at hand is the aforementioned accounting issues that date back to 2005. If the suits go through, Koss may find itself too weak to continue as a company and may be forced to liquidate in order to meet its obligations.

What liability does Koss have?  Are they responsible for sufficient internal controls to prevent an embezzlement such as this?  Will others be indicted as co-conspirators?  Should Senior Management (outside of Sachdeva) have questioned her lifestyle vs. her income?

It’s easy to blame Sachdeva – she allegedly did steal the money – but there is a greater question that faces Koss management – what should they have done or questioned to prevent such a multiyear theft?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Pepsi thief – James T. Hammes – Can’t be found – Suppose he’s on a beach somewhere enjoying his $8.7 million take?

January 15, 2010

Accountant James T. Hammes, of Lexington, Ky., was indicted in May on charges that he embezzled more than $8.7 million from a Pepsi bottling company in Deerfield Township. The alleged crimes spanned a decade. At last check, authorities said they couldn’t find Hammes and considered him a fugitive.

The FBI has issued an arrest warrant for a man accused of diverting millions to his own account over a five-year period while he worked for a suburban Cincinnati Pepsi bottler.  The FBI says 46-year-old James Hammes was the Lexington, Ky., controller for Deerfield Township-based G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers from 2004 until early this year.

The wire fraud and money laundering complaint alleges Hammes deposited G&J funds to a bank account that he controlled, and later transferred the money to other accounts he controlled.  The money was intended for a company that supplied labels to the bottler, but the FBI says the supplier had no knowledge of the account or control over it.

Hammes fled after he was served with an initial criminal complaint in February, said Keith Bennett, FBI special agent in charge, in the release. He remains at large.  “Anyone with information on the current whereabouts of Mr. Hammes is asked to contact their nearest FBI office,” Bennett said.

The follow was part of an article on Cincinnati.com about white collar crime:

Small employers often make themselves vulnerable to embezzlement because “they trust people too much,” Campbell said. They may put one person in charge of payroll, with little or no scrutiny. Then one day the employee may succumb to the temptation to steal just a little, and then a little more – and “it just snowballs,” Campbell said.

“They always say they meant to pay it back,” Ferguson said. “And the employers always say, ‘But I trusted this person. I don’t understand.'”

Sometimes people with otherwise stellar reputations turn to embezzling because they run into financial trouble and are trying to bail themselves out. Other times, they want the money to buy luxury items or to feed gambling addictions, Ferguson said.

Whatever their motivation, embezzlers have one thing in common: “They’re all smart enough to see some glitch in the system and take advantage of it,” Ferguson said.

Several Butler embezzlers were able to continue their crimes unnoticed for years, Ferguson noted. “A lot of them get caught when they go on vacation or they get sick, and someone else takes over their duties, sees something’s not right and raises a red flag,” he said. “Then they come back from vacation and find themselves confronted or fired.”

The typical embezzler has no prior criminal history, Campbell said. Embezzlers often admit to their crimes – partly because the documented evidence is often hard to dispute and because they want to clear the guilt from their consciences, he said. And, Campbell said, they do it “because it was easy.”

What reasons do you think that white collar criminals do what they do?  YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!