Former Loan Officer Michael Pahutski sentenced to 19 years in Prison for Mortgage Fraud Scheme

July 9, 2011

As you look over the reported facts of this case, it’s sad to see that so many could conspire to defraud.  Do I blame the perpetrators – Yes!  But, when you look more closely we have to evaluate what was happening at the time and how the environment created the opportunity to join together to create such a widespread fraud.

As a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, 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.

Read the US Attorney’s news release below for more details…

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins
Western District of North Carolina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FRIDAY, MAY 6, 2011

CONTACT: Lia Bantavani
704.338.3140
Fax: 704.227.0264

LOAN OFFICER SENTENCED TO 19 YEARS IN PRISON CHARLOTTE, NC—Today, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina announced that Michael Pahutski, 48, of Gastonia, was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment to be followed by five years of supervised release. Pahutski was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and pay restitution of approximately $3.5 million. The sentence is the latest step in an ongoing investigation of mortgage fraud schemes carried out around the Charlotte area, which led to the charging of eight individuals with mail, wire and bank fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and related charges in March 2008. The investigation also resulted in the trial of closing attorney and co-defendant Victoria Sprouse in March 2009. Pahutski pled guilty prior to trial, without the benefit of a plea agreement, to all twenty-one counts in the indictment then pending against him.

Joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in making today’s announcement are Jeannine Hammett, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation Division; Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charlotte Division; Inspector In Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Keith Fixel; and Wayne Goodwin, Commissioner, North Carolina Department of Insurance.

A federal indictment charging Michael Pahutski with mortgage-fraud- related offenses was originally filed in August 2007, followed by a superseding indictment adding charges and five other defendants in March 2008. To date, all six of those defendants have been either convicted at trial or have entered pleas of guilty. The charges represent the results of a local investigation which stemmed from the detection of an original mortgage fraud scheme in September 2002, and focused on a group operating in and around the Charlotte area. The indictment alleged, and the evidence presented at the sentencing hearing and elsewhere, showed that all the defendants participated in a series of mortgage fraud schemes involving more than $20 million in mortgage loans and hundreds of houses in Charlotte-area neighborhoods. The defendants included Pahutski who served as a loan officer, as well as a closing attorney, a real estate appraiser, another mortgage broker, and two realtors. The indictment also identified two other attorneys, three home builders (including one national homebuilder), and several real estate investors as co-conspirators in these schemes. One of the banks victimized by the schemes closed its doors in mid-2007 after 103 years of business in large part due to the scheme.

The indictment alleged that Pahutski participated in a “flip” mortgage fraud scheme where houses were purchased through fraudulent mortgage applications and use of other false documents. Pahutski was originally indicted in this case in connection with a scheme involving closing attorney Victoria Sprouse and real estate investor Stephen Hawfield, in which approximately 210 houses were purchased in a “flip scheme” through fraudulent mortgage applications to nBank for more than $15 million.

U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger pronounced the 19 year sentence. In doing so, Judge Reidinger explained that he hoped others would note the sentence, and “see that they do not want to become mortgage fraudsters.” The Judge noted that the offense had caused substantial damage to nBank, which failed, and also had caused substantial damage to our financial system. Judge Reidinger said that the heavy sentence was based in part on the fact that Pahutski had been entrusted by the state of North Carolina with a license, and “was supposed to have been part of the firewall to prevent this [mortgage fraud] from happening, but instead became part of the problem.” Following the sentencing hearing, Judge Reidinger ordered that Pahutski be immediately taken into custody and
detained as a flight risk.

The case was investigated by Special Agents of the FBI, Charlotte, Special Agents of the IRS-CI, U.S. Postal Inspectors, and criminal investigative personnel of the NC Insurance Commission. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kurt W. Meyers and Jenny Sugar of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Criminal Division, Charlotte, NC, as well as former Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Martens.

United States v. Pahutski, et al
Docket Number: 3:07CR211
Michael D. Pahutski, 48 (Loan Officer)
Charlotte, NC
Guilty plea entered 3/3/09
Sentenced 5/6/11 to 228 months imprisonment to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release, 200 hours of community service, and ordered to pay $3,563,125.27 in restitution

Victoria L. Sprouse, 40 (Closing Attorney)
Charlotte, NC
Jury trial 3/23/09 – 4/1/09
Guilty verdict by jury 4/1/09
Awaiting sentencing

Michael Gee, 61 (Appraiser)
Hilton Head, SC
Guilty plea entered 3/10/2009
Sentenced 6/24/10 to 24 months imprisonment to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release and ordered to pay $3,563,125.27 in restitution

Gregory A. Mascaro, 44 (Real Estate Agent)
Harrisburg, NC
Guilty plea entered 6/9/08
Sentenced 2/27/09 to 24 months imprisonment to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release and ordered to pay $62,361.21 in restitution

Jules Springs, 43 (Loan Officer)
Charlotte, NC
Guilty plea entered 7/7/08
Sentenced 5/19/09 to 24 months imprisonment to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release and ordered to pay $62,361.21 in restitution

Gregory D. Rankin, 36 (Real Estate Agent)
Charlotte, NC
Guilty plea entered 6/25/08
Sentenced 2/27/09 to five years probation, first 23 months under home confinement

If you have knowledge of any of these who were involved in this massive scheme…please feel free to share your insights.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Medical Device Manufacturers (and Sellers) Take Note – Atricure to Pay U.S. $3.76 Million to Resolve Medicare Fraud Allegations

February 4, 2010

Quite interesting…  I had a discussion with a prospective client the other day who was sharing the need for firms – especially those in the Medical field – to operate ethically and know the rules when it comes to sales and ‘inducement’!  “It is clear,” he stated, “that firms need to take proactive actions to make sure that they not only operate within the law (as they understand it), but take affirmative actions to demonstrate their intent to operate in an ethical/legal environment.  As I was considering a fraud prevention presentation for this firm, then two days later this crosses my desk…

According to the Justice Department – Atricure Inc., a medical device manufacturer, has agreed to pay the United States $3.76 million to resolve civil claims in connection with the alleged promotion of its surgical ablation devices.  Surgical ablation devices use focused energy to create controlled lesions or scar tissue on a patient’s heart or other organs.

The settlement resolves allegations that the West Chester, Ohio-based company marketed its medical devices to treat atrial fibrillation (the most common cardiac arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm), a use that is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Atricure also allegedly promoted expensive heart surgery using the company’s devices when less invasive alternatives were appropriate, advised hospitals to up-code surgical procedures using the company’s devices to inflate Medicare reimbursement, and paid kickbacks to health care providers to use its devices. The United States asserted that by engaging in this conduct, Atricure knowingly violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and caused the submission of false and fraudulent claims in violation of the False Claims Act.

The allegations were made against Atricure in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private citizens, called “relators,” to bring lawsuits on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of the proceeds of any settlement or judgment. The relator will receive a total of $625,000 as the statutory share of the current settlement.

NOTE: With opportunities for whistleblowers to gain personally from a settlement…it should be clear that challenges to operating actions come from many angles.  Some companies consider this a cost of doing business, but when the settlement hits (assuming there is no prosecution) the use of the equipment changes and people tend to run from issues that have a negative legal implication.

“The misuse of medical devices has the potential of exposing patients to dangerous procedures and taxpayers to payment of unwarranted claims against Medicare,” said Tim Johnson, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “This settlement demonstrates the government’s commitment to maintaining safe and affordable health care for its citizens.”

This settlement is part of the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover approximately $2.2 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 have topped $3 billion.

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Gevork Kartashyan and Eliza Shubaralyan sentenced to Prison for Health Care Fraud – Comments by Ethics and Fraud Prevention Speaker Chuck Gallagher

February 4, 2010

The Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) – a division of the Justice Department is at it again.  Their goal…to stop Medicare fraud…!  And, it looks like they are being effective.

Gevork Kartashyan and Eliza Shubaralyan, the owners and operators of a Los Angeles-area durable medical equipment (DME) company were sentenced to prison in connection with an approximately $1 million power wheelchair fraud scheme.  Each were sentenced to serve two years in prison and in addition, Kartashyan and Shubaralyan were ordered to serve three years of supervised release following their prison terms and to pay $400,000 in restitution, jointly and severally.

Kartashyan and Shubaralyan, who are married, were convicted at a July 2009 trial in federal court in Los Angeles. Kartashyan was found guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and health care fraud, and Shubaralyan was found guilty of health care fraud. At trial, the evidence showed that Kartashyan and Shubaralyan, through their company CHH Medical Supply, billed Medicare $949,859 and were paid $597,750 as a result of the billing. According to evidence presented at trial, virtually all the billing was for medically unnecessary power wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories.

At trial, elderly Medicare beneficiaries testified about how they were recruited into the scheme. According to testimony, the beneficiaries were taken to Los Angeles-area medical clinics, where they turned over their Medicare numbers and other personal identifying information. Some beneficiaries testified that they were promised vitamins, diabetic shoes and other items that they never received, in return for providing their beneficiary numbers. According to evidence presented at trial, these clinics were in the business of generating fraudulent power wheelchair prescriptions that could be sold to DME company owners, who then billed Medicare for the wheelchairs. Many of the beneficiaries did not know they were getting a power wheelchair until it was delivered by CHH Medical Supply. All of the beneficiaries testified that they did not need or use the power wheelchairs.

Five physicians testified at trial that they never authorized or approved the power wheelchair prescriptions written under their names. Three of these physicians testified that they never worked at the clinics listed on the phony prescription pads.

According to testimony at trial, Kartashyan regularly purchased power wheelchair prescriptions. The evidence also showed that after the power wheelchairs were delivered, Kartashyan generated phony forms stating that the beneficiaries’ homes were appropriate for the use of a power wheelchair, even though no home assessment was conducted.

Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in seven districts have obtained indictments of more than 500 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $1 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

ENOUGH SAID…any comments?

HEAT’S website can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Anatomy of a Ponzi Scheme – Commentary by Fraud Prevention Expert Chuck Gallagher

February 2, 2010

“I have an inside track on a great investment.  You’ll get better than a 12% per year return.  But, there are only a limited number of folks that I can get in on this offering.  You interested?

STEP ONE – make a promise that seems ‘special’ or ‘better’ than what anyone else can get on their investment funds!

“Wow…this is great.  I just got our statement in the mail and you know that investment I made in that private fund that Joe recommended…well its done better than he projected.  The market has been down, but this has returned over 16% thus far.  Man…I’m glad we got in on this deal!”

STEP TWO – Create an illusion that the investment is real.  This is done with fake statements (Bernie Madoff has had co-workers indicted for their role in creating fake documents).  Gordon Grigg is now in jail for his Ponzi scheme when he made a simple mistake on one of his fake statements.  He reversed the names and instead of calling them Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac he stated Fannie Mac and Freddy Mae…oops.

“Hey Frank…I know you told me the other day how badly your portfolio has been.  Well, I got connected with one of my friends on a private placement investment and, well, I was hesitant at first, but it’s been going great guns.  We’re up over 16% this year and I have a guarantee of 12%.  I didn’t say anything at first, but I thought that you might want to connect with this guy.  He’s really got it together.  Who knows, if you put some money with him…you might be able to dig yourself out of the hole a bit quicker.  Want me to call him and see if he could take you on?”

STEP THREE – Grow the fraud using trust.  First you trusted the person who hooked you into the fraud, and now you’re using that same blind trust to lead others to the slaughter.  Ouch…it will be painful both emotionally and financially on the back side.

HISTORY:

Charles Ponzi arrive in Boston on November 15, 1903, aboard the S.S. Vancouver. By his own account, Ponzi had $2.50 in his pocket, having gambled away the rest of his life savings during the voyage. “I landed in this country with $2.50 in cash and $1 million in hopes, and those hopes never left me,” he later told The New York Times. He quickly learned English and spent the next few years doing odd jobs along the East Coast, eventually taking a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant, where he slept on the floor. He managed to work his way up to the position of waiter, but was fired for shortchanging the customers and theft.

NOTE: There was a pattern of theft and unethical behavior, but the consequence of his actions were not significant enough for Ponzi to change his ways.

Imprisoned for forgery, Ponzi spent three years in the prison St. Vincent-de-Paul near Montreal. Rather than inform his mother of this development, he posted her a letter stating that he had found a job as a “special assistant” to a prison warden.   After his release in 1911 he decided to return to the United States, but got involved in a scheme to smuggle Italian illegal immigrants across the border. He was caught and spent two years in Atlanta Prison, where he met inmate Charles W. Morse, a wealthy Wall Street businessman and speculator, where he learned of greater opportunities than simple petty theft.

Ponzi seized on, what he said was an opportunity, to use postal coupons (I guess today we’d call them stamps), to make money.  IRCs (the postal coupons referred to) were priced at the cost of postage in the country of purchase, but could be exchanged for stamps to cover the cost of postage in the country where redeemed; if these values were different, there was a potential profit.  Here’s where Ponzi dreamed up his opportunity for fraud.

Ponzi went to several of his friends in Boston and promised that he would double their investment in 90 days. The great returns available from postal reply coupons, he explained to them, made such incredible profits easy. Some people invested and were paid off as promised, receiving $750 interest on initial investments of $1,250.

NOTE: The scheme always involves a promise of something that the average bloke just can’t get.  So when someone – especially someone you trust tells you that they have a fail safe investment that offers great returns…be prepared to be scammed.

Soon afterward, Ponzi started his own company, the “Old Colony Foreign Exchange Company,” to promote the scheme. He set up shop in a building on School Street. Word spread, and investments came in at an ever-increasing rate. Ponzi hired agents and paid them generous commissions for every dollar they brought in. By February 1920, Ponzi’s total take was US$5,000, (approximately US$54,000 in 2008 dollars). By March, he had made $30,000 ($328,000 in 2008 terms). A frenzy was building, and Ponzi began to hire agents to take in money from all over New England and New Jersey. At that time, investors were being paid impressive rates, encouraging yet others to invest. By May 1920, he had made $420,000 ($4.59 million in 2008 terms).

NOTE: The illusion was in full force.  Just as soon as folks began to see the promised returns happening (just as promised) they began to believe that what they were seeing was real.  Bernie Madoff, Gordon Grigg, and many many more in just 2009 did exactly the same thing.  They promised something and delivered…creating the illusion that all was just as portrayed.  What investors didn’t know was that the returns they were seeing came from other peoples investments.

By July 1920, Ponzi had made millions. People were mortgaging their homes and investing their life savings. Most did not take their profits, but reinvested.

NOTE: Another psychological part of most Ponzi schemes is that once there is an element of trust, greed sets in and investors (wanting more and more) do not take their profits, but rather leave them for yet bigger and bigger profits.  In effect, victims would rather gamble with their funds than protect their assets.

Ponzi was bringing in cash at a fantastic rate, but the simplest financial analysis would have shown that the operation was running at a large loss. As long as money kept flowing in, existing investors could be paid with the new money. In fact, new money was the only way Ponzi had to pay off those investors, as he made no effort to generate legitimate profits.

NOTE: It seems odd, but the obvious somehow becomes clouded in the quest for more money.  In the Madoff scam…people now looking back could have seen that what he was doing couldn’t work…yet, Madoff survived three SEC investigations with flying colors.  It seems that it is human nature to want to believe that what is not real somehow is real.

Ponzi lived luxuriously: he bought a mansion in Lexington, Massachusetts with air conditioning and a heated swimming pool, and he maintained accounts in several banks across New England besides Hanover Trust. He also brought his mother from Italy in a first-class stateroom on an ocean liner.

NOTE:  Most Ponzi schemers use the funds (for the most part) for an illusory lifestyle.   That’s part of the illusion that causes people to trust the schemer.  Madoff, Grigg, Stanford (although he’s not yet been found guilty) Huffman and others all have become part of the illusion that promotes trust so that more people will invest (oops…become scammed).

Joseph Daniels, a Boston furniture dealer who had given Ponzi furniture which he could not afford to pay for, sued Ponzi to cash in on the gold rush. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, but it did start people asking how Ponzi could have gone from being penniless to being a millionaire in so short a time. There was a run on the Securities Exchange Company, as some investors decided to pull out. Ponzi paid them and the run stopped. On July 24, 1920, the Boston Post printed a favorable article on Ponzi and his scheme that brought in investors faster than ever. At that time, Ponzi was making $250,000 a day. Ponzi’s good fortune was increased by the fact that just below this favorable article, which seemed to imply that Ponzi was indeed returning 50% return on investment after only 45 days, was a bank advertisement that stated that the bank was paying 5% returns annually. The day after this article was published, Ponzi arrived at his office to find thousands of Bostonians waiting to give him their money.

NOTE: At the height of the schemes most fraudsters find that their false promise supported by an illusion and reinforced with trust (many times of well known and influential individuals) drives ever more folks to be sucked into the PIT. (PROMISE, ILLUSION AND TRUST).  Likewise, at its height that is generally when the pendulum is preparing to swing in – well lets say – a more truthful direction.  In other words the house of cards is soon to collapse.

On July 26, the Post started a series of articles that asked hard questions about the operation of Ponzi’s money machine. The Post contacted Clarence Barron, the financial analyst who published the Barron’s financial paper, to examine Ponzi’s scheme. Barron observed that though Ponzi was offering fantastic returns on investments, Ponzi himself was not investing with his own company. Barron then noted that to cover the investments made with the Securities Exchange Company, 160 million postal reply coupons would have to be in circulation. However, only about 27,000 actually were. The United States Post Office stated that postal reply coupons were not being bought in quantity at home or abroad.

The stories caused a panic run on the Securities Exchange Company. Ponzi paid out $2 million in three days to a wild crowd outside his office. He canvassed the crowd, passed out coffee and donuts, and cheerfully told them they had nothing to worry about. Many changed their minds and left their money with him. However, this attracted the attention of Daniel Gallagher (no relation by the way – although that would be quite a coincidence), the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Gallagher commissioned Edwin Pride to audit the Securities Exchange Company’s books—an effort made difficult by the fact his bookkeeping system consisted merely of index cards with investors’ names.

The denouement for Ponzi began in late July, when McMasters found several highly incriminating documents that indicated Ponzi was merely robbing Peter to pay Paul. He went to his former employer, the Post, with this information. The paper offered him $5,000 for his story. On August 2, 1920, McMasters wrote an article for the Post declaring Ponzi hopelessly insolvent. The article claimed that while Ponzi claimed $7 million in liquid funds, he was actually at least $2 million in debt. With interest factored in, McMasters wrote, Ponzi was as much as $4.5 million in the red. The story touched off a massive run, and Ponzi paid off in one day. He then sped up plans to build a massive conglomerate that would engage in banking and import-export operations.

On August 11, it all came crashing down for Ponzi. First, the Post came out with a front-page story about his activities in Montreal 13 years earlier—including his forgery conviction and his role at Zarossi’s scandal-ridden bank. That afternoon, Bank Commissioner Allen seized Hanover Trust after finding numerous irregularities in its books. Although the commissioner did not know it, this move foiled Ponzi’s last-ditch plan to “borrow” funds from the bank vaults after all other efforts to obtain funds failed.

With reports that he was due to be arrested any day, Ponzi surrendered to federal authorities on August 12 and was charged with mail fraud for sending letters to his marks telling them their notes had matured. He was originally released on $25,000 bail, but after the Post released the results of the audit, the bail bondsman withdrew the bail due to concerns he might be a flight risk.

The news brought down five other banks in addition to Hanover Trust. His investors were practically wiped out, receiving less than 30 cents on the dollar. The Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for its exposure of Ponzi’s fraud.

WHERE ARE WE TODAY?

Same place we were when old Charles created what we now call the “Ponzi scheme.”  Robbing Peter to Pay Paul is the name of this game and unfortunately it existed before Charles Ponzi (he just got the notoriety for it) and continues to this day…and unfortunately will continue.

People get victimized, in a sense, by their own greed – although many don’t wish to admit that.  But, reality is – the investor (victim) wants a better return than he/she can get elsewhere (they fall victim to a false promise).  The illusion that the fraudster creates lures the investor victim into believing that what seemingly can’t be real – in fact is.  And, most fraudsters prey first on those closest to them – their friends, family and close acquaintances people that trust them.

The fraudster typically uses need, opportunity and rationalization to effect their crime while the victim falls into the PIT – or stated this way, they fall victim to a PROMISE supported by an ILLUSION which has a foundation in TRUST.


Facebook – Internet Scam! Free Grant Money – Yea Right! Scam Alert by Chuck Gallagher Fraud Prevention Speaker

February 26, 2009

Now…don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Facebook and social media / networking.  I may be 51, but I am learning quickly the benefits of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  But with every great tool comes someone who will use it for – well lets say – not so noble uses. As a fraud prevention speaker, I am alert to things that – well, just don’t smell right.

In Facebook on the right side of your home page or profile are those pesky little ads that help make Facebook run and make it free to use.  Rarely – if ever do I click on them.  Mostly cause I’m not interested and secondly, I don’t want to get sucked into something I don’t want, don’t need or don’t understand.

But, I’ve got to be honest.  For weeks now I’ve been seeing this ad – over and over again – touting getting your stimulus check.  Now, I’m smart enough to know that there is NO Twelve Thousand Dollar stimulus check coming to ole Chuck!  Yet, I’ve been tempted to click on the ad and just see what it is all about.  Several times I dragged my cursor over the ad and stated to click.  I didn’t!

Today, however, I notice a great article written by Chadwick Matlin and posted on MSNBC.  The full article can be found here.

The article begins as follows:

Meet Kevin Hoeffer. Kevin is an altruistic man who just received $12,759.62 from the federal government. He wants all of the readers of his blog to be able to do the same. So he points the way to a free grant kit (plus $1.99 shipping and handling) to use to apply for a government handout. Once you do that, you’ll get your $12,000. It’s that simple. He even provides a copy of his official Treasury grant check to prove its legitimacy.

grant-check2-kevinhoeffercopyhmediumNow it is clear from the photo from the article that what is represented sure looks real.  But, that’s all part of the fraud.  When a person is scammed three things generally take place and the photo above shows the simplicity of creating the second part of the three part scam – ILLUSION.

I was contacted by an organization asking about legislation to protect people (especially Senior Citizens) against fraud – like what Bernie Madoff pulled off.  I responded in a way that I suspect they didn’t like.  You cannot legislate out fraud.  There has and will always be those who would take advantage of others.  That, unfortunately, is the nature of some people.  Likewise, there will always be some people who want to believe (in the tooth fairy) that something can be had for nothing – that they will fall for even the dumbest of scams.

HERE’S HOW THIS ONE WORKS:

Per Mr. Matlin in his article:


These people are the faces of a new, pervasive scam that’s piggybacking on Washington’s stimulus agenda. All of the blogs tell you to use the free software to get the $12,000 grants. To order that software, the blogs link off-site to a variety of Web sites filled with testimonials about how great their free grant-finding software is. What they don’t say is that if you fail to cancel your subscription — a subscription the sites don’t reveal exists outside — they’ll charge your credit card until you discover their scheme and tell them to stop. (The going rate seems to be $50-$70.) It’s a devious system whose ads are proliferating across the Internet and has embarrassed Facebook into pulling them down. A close read of the scams’ semiotics offers an insight not just to our weakness for get-rich-quick schemes, but also our current economic moment.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE:stimuli-adsstandard

Not everyone is subject to a big case of the dummies.  Many folks complained and Facebook figured that the revenue wasn’t worth ticking off the Facebook community so they pulled the ads.  By the way the Ads look like this.  I have taken the time to show them here so that if you see them you’ll know exactly what a scam looks like.

ANATOMY OF A FRAUD OR SCAM:

Being defrauded is easy.  The fraudster just sucks you into the PIT.  Now for those of you who follow my blog, I have reported on this before in entries related to Bernie Madoff.  But if you have not read those let me help you with understanding the PIT.

The first part of most any financial fraud starts with the PROMISE ( P ).  In the case of this scam the promise is a big fat $12,000 from the government.  Why?  Well, of course newly elected President Obama wants you to have it.  It is part of the big ole stimulus package – RIGHT!

So POINT OF ADVICE:  If you wish to avoid being scammed, understand – if it sounds to good to be true – it LIKELY ISN’T TRUE!

The second part of the fraud triangle is the ILLUSION ( I ).  That is obvious as well…you get to see a pretty picture of a (what must be real) check from the government!

A great ILLUSIONIST should be able to fool you.  But with electronics these days you can make any thing any way you want it.  Remember the movie – “CATCH ME IF YOU CAN” – what if he’d had photoshop?

That leads to the third and final component of fraud – TRUST ( T ).  In order to effectively pull a fraud off, someone has to trust the fraudster.  Now, having been a fraudster (not something I am proud of), I understand the mentality.  It is much easier to defraud someone who is close to you and trusts you than it is to defraud a stranger.  But if the need is great enough – like the failing economic situation we’re in now – and the population of folks to defraud is large enough – well even a blind squirrel can find an acorn.

SCAM AVOIDANCE:

Don’t believe everything you hear.  Don’t believe everything you see.  Don’t trust everyone who wishes to take or (invest) your money.  Use common sense and you’ll avoid the need for an attorney to help you get out of the scam mess that can ensnare folks.

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Bernie Madoff or Gordon Grigg Fraud Losses – Perhaps IRC Section 165(c)(2) Will Help…

February 16, 2009

There is nothing fun about fraud – especially if you are on the losing end.  Not only do you feel betrayed – your trust destroyed, but most of the time you find that you have also suffered financial loss that in many ways can’t be replaced.  irslogo

As a busines ethics and fraud prevention speaker, I believe in giving credit where credit is due.  Today I received a response to two blog postings I made by Moira Souza Shiver who reminded me about a provision of the Internal Revenue Code that, in many ways, is little known.  Her website can be found here and it states the following:

My name is Moira Souza-Shiver and I am the founder and President of MSS Advocacy Group, LLC (MSSAG).  I’m extremely proud to have established an organization whose main mission is bringing help to victims by attaining the assistance they deserve and were promised.  Working in the investment fraud industry for the past 10 years has created in me a passion to fight for what’s right and even more, has instilled in me a deep respect for victims and the suffering they endure.

My decision to establish MSSAG came from what I describe as a desperate need within the 165 industry.  After serving 6 years with JK Harris 165 Services, LLC, it was clear there was little being done in the form of victims’ advocacy and an organization was needed to help alleviate their suffering.   Believing that investment fraud victims deserve the same rights allotted to other victims, MSSAG was born.

MSSAG is committed to doing everything it can for this cause, including aligning itself with other organizations and advocates that can provide complimentary assistance through established programs.  By combining forces with these types of organizations, we intend to maximize all available sources of assistance and bring hope back to victim’s lives.

Now, before you assume that I have a financial interest in promoting Moira or Section 165, let me clarify that I do not.  But like Moira, I do have an interest in making sure that all aspects of ethics and fraud (including prevention and recovery) are explored.

I have talked with several of the victims of Gordon Grigg (who the SEC is actively conducting an investigation on) and I know and feel their pain.  So please read the following as it might help you understand the application of IRC Section 165(c)(2).

An excellent article was written in the Journal of Accountancy related to Section 165.  A portion of the article is reproduced below:

When a client is the victim of fraud or embezzlement, for example, CPAs can reduce the client’s ordinary income, recoup any previously paid taxes and minimize future tax obligations by using IRC section 165(c)(2).

Be aware that CPAs who prepare and defend an investment loss deduction under IRC section 165(c)(2) must meet numerous technical requirements and make certain determinations based on examining the circumstances. Section 165(c)(2) deductions also frequently prompt IRS oversight, and in many instances, the standard tax preparation software does not adequately address this deduction, since it’s generally geared to the more familiar section 1211 capital loss treatment. But while section 1211 is an appropriate treatment, using it may result in clients’ paying more taxes than are required.

If a client suffers an investment loss as a result of a fraudulent investment or unethical sales practice, probably the most prudent action a CPA can take, even though there is no requirement to do so, is to suggest the client first discuss it with his or her lawyer. Taxpayers are required to take reasonable action to recover a loss and not doing so disqualifies it for section 165(c)(2) treatment. If the lawyer feels there was malfeasance and it is not practical to pursue recovery due to a lack of recoverable assets, the cost of litigation or other reasons, the loss probably is deductible in the current period. Losses from embezzlement, blackmail, kidnapping for ransom, burglary, larceny, extortion and threats also may qualify for section 165 treatment.

While I no long provide tax advice, I do feel that providing information on fraud recovery options is a positive benefit.  Below are some links to articles on Section 165.  I do advise that that you give Moira a call.  Please note the following from her web site:

First and foremost, there is no guarantee you will ever recover any of your lost investment.  MSS165 will never be able to make you whole or guarantee a partial recovery of your money.  We can however promise to be truthful, try to help in any way we can and be available for questions as the needs arise.  With a combination of over 31 years experience in the investment fraud recovery industry, we’re confident that our ability, combined with our passion for helping victims will provide you with the best chance of recovery available.

*  MSS165 is compensated for its efforts by means of speaking engagements and donations to the company.  There is no charge to victims or their accounting professionals for our time, information or efforts on victim’s behalves.

HOPE THIS HELPS and as always – COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

LINKS:

http://www.mss165.com/whoweare.htm

http://www.journalofaccountancy.com/Issues/2005/Apr/MaximizeTaxBenefitsUnderIrcSection165.htm

http://www.traderstatus.com/section165theftloss.htm

http://www.taxreliefinc.com/165services2.htm



Madoff Ponzi Scheme – How Do Folks Get De-Frauded? Comments by White Collar Crime Speaker Chuck Gallagher

December 20, 2008

The headlines are riddled with questions.  How do people get sucked into white collar crimes?  Didn’t they do their do diligence?  The Madoff scandal has more people asking more questions than any white collar crime in recent history and there are more to come.  Amazing, but the answer is often found in the comments made by those who have been directly touched by Madoff’s actions.

In a recent AP story the following was stated:

Signing up companies for office space in Manhattan skyscrapers made Norman F. Levy a very rich man.

In the hotly competitive but tight-knit world of New York commercial real estate, Levy worked across more than seven decades brokering leases in midtown’s towers. When he died in 2005 at 93, he was hailed as an elder statesman of the trade whose zest for the deal was matched by his generosity with both friendship and money.

“Your spirit and love of life have touched and changed all who knew you,” one friend of 40 years wrote in a paid death notice for Levy that ran in The New York Times. “You taught me so much. I’ll cherish our relationship forever.”

The friend was Bernard Madoff.

The real estate broker and the money manager were separated by 26 years, but they and their families had formed a friendship reinforced by shared interests, social circles — and trust.

Levy and Madoff were active in some of the same organizations, like New York’s Yeshiva University. They donated their money to many of the same causes — groups including the Lincoln Center Theater and Gift of Life, a South Florida charity that tries to save Jewish leukemia victims by matching them with bone marrow donors.

In the summer, both families headed to the Hamptons. When Norman F. Levy died, he was staying at his daughter’s house fronting the Atlantic in Montauk, just a few sprawling lots away from the mansion owned by the Madoffs.

For more than 30 years, the Levys also entrusted their personal investments to Madoff. When they chartered the Betty and Norman F. Levy Foundation — which reported assets last year of $244.4 million — as the vehicle for their charitable giving, they again put their trust in their longtime friend.

The story, apparently one of many now starting to surface, talks of connection, friendship and most of all TRUST.

The question – how does one get defrauded is obvious.  One of the key critical factors is “trust.”   In order for a scam or fraud to be effected there are three components that all must come together: (1) need; (2) opportunity and (3) rationalization.  Those are the tools of the fraudster and if any one is missing the fraud doesn’t happen.  But in order to be defrauded you must, as I call it, step into the PIT.   A prior blog post talks about the PIT.  But for a short explanation the PIT means: A Promise (P) which creates and Illusion (I) which is supported by Trust (T).  Trust for the person or organization being scamed is critical.

An outstanding article in the Charlotte Observer.com stated in the first paragraph:

For sheer toe-curling embarrassment, it may be a while before Wall Street does better than the Bernard Madoff scandal. Here was a rogue who practically telegraphed his unreliability by hiring a tiny, no-name audit firm, by reporting monthly investment results that never fluctuated and by claiming a trading strategy that could not possibly have been implemented given the billions of dollars he managed. And yet, despite these warnings, the rich, the famous and the supposedly sophisticated entrusted their money to Madoff, who defrauded them with the most laughably crude of methods – an old-fashioned Ponzi scam.

Think about what is said up above – how many clues could one recieve before bells of warning would go off?  Reality is – people, especially those who believe that they deserve or should receive better than most, place their desire and “trust” above their intellect.  That’s when the suckering begins.  Unfortunately the devastation that follows is both financial and emotional.

The New York Times stated the following:

He provided little information and demanded a lot of trust.

“You have a lot of wealthy people who made a lot of money on handshakes,” said Mark S. Weiss, a commercial real estate broker at Newmark Knight Frank, where several brokers had invested heavily with Mr. Madoff. There was “something about this person, pedigree and reputation that inspired trust,” he said.

Across the city, industry executives said deals had been scuttled or jeopardized because of the scandal. Residential brokers are taking calls from Madoff investors who have had to put their apartments on the market. Many developers had pledged their investments with Mr. Madoff as collateral for projects, and are now worried that their banks will call in their loans.

“The level of devastation, both financial and on a human level, is astounding,” said Robert J. Ivanhoe, a lawyer who is representing 10 developers and investors who lost $5 million to $50 million each with Mr. Madoff.

As a former white collar fraudster (not something I’m proud of) the reality is the pattern is predictable.  Fraud to the victim is a function of trust and illusion.  Madoff, seemed to be the consumate illusionist and had unparelled trust.  His trust propelled the scheme and now we are at the beginning of finding just how devastating the effects will be.

More to come…

As a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker I routinely working with companies on a confidential basis to evaluate and eliminate fraud.  For more information or for comments related to ponzi schemes – contact me at chuck@chuckgallagher.com or 828.244.1400.