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 – Text of Court Statement

March 12, 2009

madoff-moneyYour Honor, for many years up until my arrest on December 11, 2008, I operated a Ponzi scheme through the investment advisory side of my business, Bernard L. Madoff Securities LLC, which was located here in Manhattan, New York at 885 Third Avenue. I am actually grateful for this first opportunity to publicly speak about my crimes, for which I am so deeply sorry and ashamed. As I engaged in my fraud, I knew what I was doing was wrong, indeed criminal. When I began the Ponzi scheme I believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients from the scheme. However, this proved difficult, and ultimately impossible, and as the years went by I realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come. I am painfully aware that I have deeply hurt many, many people, including the members of my family, my closest friends, business associates and the thousands of clients who gave me their money. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done. I am here today to accept responsibility for my crimes by pleading guilty and, with this plea allocution, explain the means by which I carried out and concealed my fraud.

The essence of my scheme was that I represented to clients and prospective clients who wished to open investment advisory and individual trading accounts with me that I would invest their money in shares of common stock, options and other securities of large well-known corporations, and upon request, would return to them their profits and principal. Those representations were false because for many years up and until I was arrested on December 11, 2008, I never invested those funds in the securities, as I had promised. Instead, those funds were deposited in a bank account at Chase Manhattan Bank. When clients wished to receive the profits they believed they had earned with me or to redeem their principal, I used the money in the Chase Manhattan bank account that belonged to them or other clients to pay the requested funds. The victims of my scheme included individuals, charitable organizations, trusts, pension funds and hedge funds. Among other means, I obtained their funds through interstate wire transfers they sent from financial institutions located outside New York State to the bank account of my investment advisory business, located here in Manhattan, New York and through mailings delivered by the United States Postal Service and private interstate carriers to my firm here in Manhattan.

I want to emphasize today that while my investment advisory business — the vehicle of my wrongdoing — was part of my firm Bernard L. Madoff Securities, the other businesses my firm engaged in, proprietary trading and market making, were legitimate, profitable and successful in all respects. Those businesses were managed by my brother and two sons.

To the best of my recollection, my fraud began in the early 1990s. At that time, the country was in a recession and this posed a problem for investments in the securities markets. Nevertheless, I had received investment commitments from certain institutional clients and understood that those clients, like all professional investors, expected to see their investments out-perform the market. While I never promised a specific rate of return to any client, I felt compelled to satisfy my clients’ expectations, at any cost. I therefore claimed that I employed an investment strategy I had developed, called a “split strike conversion strategy,” to falsely give the appearance to clients that I had achieved the results I believed they expected.

Through the split-strike conversion strategy, I promised to clients and prospective clients that client funds would be invested in a basket of common stocks within the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index, a collection of the 100 largest publicly traded companies in terms of their market capitalization. I promised that I would select a basket of stocks that would closely mimic the price movements of the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index. I promised that I would opportunistically time these purchases and would be out of the market intermittently, investing client funds during these periods in United States Government-issued securities such as United States Treasury bills. In addition, I promised that as part of the split strike conversion strategy, I would hedge the investments I made in the basket of common stocks by using client funds to buy and sell option contracts related to those stocks, thereby limiting potential client losses caused by unpredictable changes in stock prices. In fact, I never made the investments I promised clients, who believed they were invested with me in the split strike conversion strategy.

To conceal my fraud, I misrepresented to clients, employees and others, that I purchased securities for clients in overseas markets. Indeed, when the United States Securities and Exchange Commission asked me to testify as part of an investigation they were conducting about my investment advisory business, I knowingly gave false testimony under oath to the staff of the SEC on May 19, 2006 that I executed trades of common stock on behalf of my investment advisory clients and that I purchased and sold the equities that were part of my investment strategy in European markets. In that session with the SEC, which took place here in Manhattan, New York, I also knowingly gave false testimony under oath that I had executed options contracts on behalf of my investment advisory clients and that my firm had custody of the assets managed on behalf of my investment advisory clients.

To further cover-up the fact that I had not executed trades on behalf of my investment advisory clients, I knowingly caused false trading confirmations and client account statements that reflected the bogus transactions and positions to be created and sent to clients purportedly involved in the split strike conversion strategy, as well as other individual clients I defrauded who believed they had invested in securities through me. The clients receiving trade confirmations and account statements had no way of knowing by reviewing these documents that I had never engaged in the transactions represented on the statements and confirmations. I knew those false confirmations and account statements would be and were sent to clients through the U.S. mails from my office here in Manhattan.

Another way that I concealed my fraud was through the filing of false and misleading certified audit reports and financial statements with the SEC. I knew that these audit reports and financial statements were false and that they would also be sent to clients. These reports, which were prepared here in the Southern District of New York, among things, falsely reflected my firm’s liabilities as a result of my intentional failure to purchase securities on behalf of my advisory clients.

Similarly, when I recently caused my firm in 2006 to register as an investment advisor with the SEC, I subsequently filed with the SEC a document called a Form ADV Uniform Application for Investment Adviser Registration. On this form, I intentionally and falsely certified under penalty of perjury that Bernard L. Madoff Investment and Securities had custody of my advisory clients’ securities. That was not true and I knew it when I completed and filed the form with the SEC, which I did from my office on the 17th floor of 855 Third Avenue, here in Manhattan.

In more recent years, I used yet another method to conceal my fraud. I wired money between the United States and the United Kingdom to make it appear as though there were actual securities transactions executed on behalf of my investment advisory clients. Specifically, I had money transferred from the U.S. bank account of my investment advisory business to the London bank account of Madoff Securities International Ltd., a United Kingdom corporation that was an affiliate of my business in New York. Madoff Securities International Ltd. was principally engaged in proprietary trading and was a legitimate, honestly run and operated business.

Nevertheless, to support my false claim that I purchased and sold securities for my investment advisory clients in European markets, I caused money from the bank account of my fraudulent advisory business, located here in Manhattan, to be wire transferred to the London bank account of Madoff Securities International Limited.

There were also times in recent years when I had money, which had originated in the New York Chase Manhattan bank account of my investment advisory business, transferred from the London bank account of Madoff Securities International Ltd. to the Bank of New York operating bank account of my firm’s legitimate proprietary and market making business. That Bank of New York account was located in New York. I did this as a way of ensuring that the expenses associated with the operation of the fraudulent investment advisory business would not be paid from the operations of the legitimate proprietary trading and market making businesses.

In connection with the purported trades, I caused the fraudulent investment advisory side of my business to charge the investment advisory clients $0.04 per share as a commission. At times in the last few years, these commissions were transferred from Chase Manhattan bank account of the fraudulent investment advisory side of my firm to the account at the Bank of New York, which was the operating account for the legitimate side of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities — the proprietary trading and market making side of my firm. I did this to ensure that the expenses associated with the operation of my fraudulent investment advisory business would not be paid from the operations of the legitimate proprietary trading and market making businesses. It is my belief that the salaries and bonuses of the personnel involved in the operation of the legitimate side of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities were funded by the operations of the firm’s successful proprietary trading and market making businesses.

Your Honor, I hope I have conveyed with some particularity in my own words, the crimes I committed and the means by which I committed them. Thank you.


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.


Bernie Madoff Will Plead Guilty! Fraud Prevention Expert Chuck Gallagher Speaks Out

March 9, 2009

In what will likely become the biggest investment fraud in US history, Bernie Madoff is set to enter a plea of guilty at a US District Court in Manhattan on Thursday.    According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marc Litt and Lisa Baroni a plea hearing is scheduled for March 12, 2009. artmadoff

According to a CNN report:

Madoff’s attorneys Ira Sorkin and Daniel Horowitz confirmed to CNN that Madoff is waiving his right to a grand jury indictment and that there have been ongoing negotiations regarding a possible settlement.

“We obviously have talked to the government,” said Horowitz. “And we have been professional with each other.” The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had no comment.

Frankly, it would make sense that Madoff would enter a plea.  Anything beyond that would likely result in a sentence or punishment that would be less favorable to Madoff.  Let me, however, say, I don’t think the punishment will be anything to laugh at.  Madoff’s alleged crime is substantial enough that it will earn him many years in federal prison.  Based on his age, I have stated on more than one ocassion that Madoff may never see freedom again.  But, that is just speculation.

PERSPECTIVE:

As many of my readers know, I have been through what Madoff is facing now.  Here’s a reality check – if you fight the federal government, you will likely end up with a substantially longer sentence.  The government (for the most part) will do whatever is necessary to gain a “win”!  The governments role is not to make the victims whole or even to discover who or how many people have been victimized.  The role of the government is to bring those who break the law to justice.  And the easier you make it for them to “win” the more likely one is to receive a moderate to light sentence.

Now, having said that, I also know that there are victims who get angry when they discover that the government doesn’t really care about their loss or their plight.  If a victim can help the government win, then the government is interested.  But, when the US Attorney has sufficient evidence to win or gets an admission of guilt on a plea agreement (which is exactly what Madoff – through his attorneys – will enter on Thursday) they are done.  The rest of victims claim will come in other legal suits that will be brought against a multitude of organizations.

In Madoff’s case – gaining a guilty plea should be easy since Madoff basically admitted guilty publically.  CNN reported:

It was “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme,” Madoff said, according to the government’s criminal complaint. “There is no innocent explanation,” Madoff told two FBI agents, according to the complaint, which states Madoff expected to go to jail.

With a statement like that – it’s an easy win for the goverment.  The issue in the plea agreement is not guilt, but what Madoff will plead guilty to and what sentence has basically been agreed to in advance.  The government will get it’s win, but will the sentence be sufficient to satisfy the victims?  By the way, starting at 10:00 a.m. victims will have a chance to be heard by the judge.  Not that it matters all that much as I would guess that it’s pretty well decided.

REALITY CHECK:

Having been through it, (wish I could say other wise) the process will likely be fairly straight forward.  Madoff pleads guilty to “securities fraud”.  The judge hears from the victims.  The judge accepts Madoff’s guilty plea.

WHAT’S NEXT:

Hum…now that’s a good question.  Thus far Madoff has been under – shall we call it – “house arrest.”  Whether he’ll be allowed to continue that form of confinement or whether the judge will require him remanded to some form of federal prison awaiting sentencing remains to be seen.  Certainly this is public outcry for Madoff to be imprisoned.

There is little chance that Madoff will be sentenced on Thursday.  If this hearing is true to form, it will only be an admission of guilty.  Once entered and accepted, Madoff will have more time to wait until his sentencing hearning.  In my case I had to wait almost six months before being sentenced and then another four months before being required to report to federal prison.

I doubt it will take that long for Madoff, but it will likely take time.

According to the New York Times:

If Mr. Madoff does plead guilty on Thursday, it could nevertheless be several months before he is sentenced, several former prosecutors said. The single count of securities fraud that he faces now carries a prison term of up to 20 years.

The one thing I do find interesting in this case if that the government is only seeking an admission of guilt on ONE count of securities fraud.  With so many victims, it would seem that the government could easily win multiple admissions of guilt on items other than just ONE count of securities fraud.  It makes one wonder if the government isn’t being cooperative due to the backlash that could come if Madoff exposed the incompetence of the SEC?

Just a thought!

QUESTION:

1.  Assuming Madoff Pleads guilty – how much time do you feel he should serve for his crime?

2.  Should Madoff’s sentence be reduced if he helps locate available funds to help with restitution?

3.  Should charitable organizations get preferential treatment when it comes to restitution?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Bruce Karatz, former CEO of KB Homes – Indicited! Were His Choices Ethical?

March 9, 2009

Having begun a formal probe by the SEC in 2007, a federal grand jury has indicted Bruce Karatz.  The 20-count indictment included seven counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud, three counts of securities fraud, four counts of lying in statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and one count of lying to KB Home’s accountants.

Well…with all those indictments, if found guilty on all charges, Mr. Karatz could face up to 415 years in prison.  Seems like the alleged frauds are getting larger as are the potential sentences.

Reported by the Dallas Business Journal:

Los Angeles-based KB Home was the 21st-largest home builder in North Texas in 2008, with 239 housing starts, according to DBJ research. bruce-karatz_454168742The company started 513 North Texas homes in 2007, and 1,216 in 2006.

Karatz, 63, is alleged to have backdated stock options over seven years, awarding himself and others millions in stock-based compensation. Karatz resigned from KB Home (NYSE: KBH) in November 2006 under pressure in the wake of an options inquiry. Other top KB executives forced out were Richard B. Hirst, executive vice president and chief legal officer, and Gary A. Ray, the head of human resources.

The Los Angeles Times reports: “Karatz, 63, served as chairman and chief executive of Westwood-based KB Home from 1986 to 2006, when he resigned under fire. Over a three-year period ending in 2005, Karatz garnered more than $232 million in compensation.”

The Times further reports:

The indictment does not say exactly how much Karatz gained as a result, but KB Home required Karatz to pay back $13 million in backdating gains when he left the company in 2006. And the SEC agreed to a settlement of $7.2 million with Karatz in 2008 to cover what it reckoned were his gains.

Karatz has long been a target of shareholder activists and labor unions, who accused him of taking more than his fair share of company profit. In 2005, the year before he stepped down, Karatz had take-home pay of $6.3 million, but he received an additional $150 million, mostly from exercising stock options.

As a business ethics speaker, it is clear that transparency is the order of the day.  Long gone are the days (or at least they should be gone) when corporate compensation is a behind closed door discussion.  I am certainly open to executive compensation that is fair and rewards those in leadership for outstanding performance.  However, any person in executive leadership in a public company must be alert to the consequences of the choices they make.

Every choice has a conseqence.  Bruce Karatz has been dealing with the consequences of his leadership at KB Home for the past several years.  It would appear that, if convicted, he will have many years ahead to review his leadership choices.

If you worked for KB Homes and have an opinion on Mr. Karatz’s leadership feel free to comment!


Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford – Tell Tail Signs You’re Being Conned! Comments from Fraud Prevention Expert Chuck Gallagher

March 6, 2009

I saw a great article in Time today entitled: How to Spot a Ponzi Con Artist? Follow the Yachts by Robert Chew.  (see article here.)   I must admit after talking recently to many of the folks who were scammed by Gordon Grigg, I would hear similar tales of loss and lifestyle – their loss and his lifestyle.

While many of my readers are regulars I am constantly reminded of the new faces who read this blog for the first time.  Knowing that, this blog entry will be less about others and more about my past.  From the past one can learn much about the future.  You see, I, too, was a fraudster.  That is not something I am proud of – in fact, it is a fact that I wish were not there.  However, I cannot change my past, so over time I have come to embrace it, share it and learn from those mistakes.  My openness is designed to bring awareness and hopefully prevent others from falling prey to those who would defraud.

THE TIME MAGAZINE ARTICLE:

The article starts with these paragraphs: ponzi_spotters_0304

With so many Ponzis and so little time to know if you’ve been hoodwinked, there are some red flags even the most trusting investors can bank on: yachts, mansions, jets and women. If your investment adviser is dabbling in any of the above, there’s a good chance you’ve been Ponzi-ed or are about to be.

Creating the illusion of fantastic success, of course, is Chapter 1 in the Scammer’s Handbook. But many among the most egregious alleged billionaire bamboozlers, like R. Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, are taking the art of thievery to the next level. Some don’t even bother opening an investor account when new monies come in; they just go shopping. It’s enough to make Gordon (“Greed is good”) Gecko blush.

Arthur Chew is dead on when he says, “Creating the illusion of fantastic success is Chapter 1 in the Scammer’s Handbook.”  Actually there, of course, is NO Scammer’s Handbook.  But, Chew is right about the illusion.

As a ethics and fraud prevention speaker, I openly discuss the steps that led up to the choices I made to enter into the world of fraud.  At first I stuck my toe into that world when I was behind on my  house payment.  I stole money from a client – tricking myself into believing I was only “borrowing” money.   That was foolish – borrowing is borrowing and theft is theft, and when you take money that isn’t yours without anyone’s knowledge – it is theft.

That said, when I repaid the stolen money I also learned it was easy.  I  took again, with minor repayment and again and again.  But to Chew’s point, the stolen funds were invested into my lifestyle.  Now, I didn’t live like Bernie Madoff, but I did live well, especially for the community that I was living in.

The Time article goes on to say:

The charge alleges Walsh and Greenwood gave themselves $8.2 million in employee “advances” and another whopping $160 million for personal expenses. The complaint detailed funds’ being used for buying rare books at auction, purchasing expensive horses, laying down $80,000 for a Steiff teddy bear and providing the ex–Mrs. Walsh with a $3 million residence.

Also last week, North Hills Management, a New York City–based $40 million investment fund run by Mark Evan Bloom, was charged by the same agency with “misappropriating for personal use” more than $13 million from its clients’ fund.

While my lifestyle was nothing like that – everything is relative.  I lived in an upscale home.  While there I was building another home which would have been in the top 1% in my community.  I drove a BMW, then a Jaguar, then a Mercedes, and finally a BMW.  I purchased rare “autographs” that I deemed to be collectibles.  Our clothes were top of the line and we wanted for nothing.  The “illusion” was appropriate for where I lived and the level of my fraud.

As I write this I am saddened by the words.  It is difficult to state what I did, knowing that I knew better all the time.  I created an amazing illusion and got caught up in it myself.  Having talked with many victims of frauds, just like the one I committed, I know that the fraudster, just like the victim, can be caught up in the illusion.

129Now I need to be careful with what I say here – for fear that my readers might think I am trying to shift blame – I am not!  But, the truth is, my crime – or the crimes of Madoff, Stanford, Grigg and others in the news today – could have been cut short if those closest to them might have been alerted by their lifestyle.  In my case, I was tax partner in a CPA firm.  It is fairly obvious that my partners knew what I was making from our firm.  I knew their income and they knew mine.  So a fair and reasonable question is – how could I live a lifestyle far more lavish than they?  If we all knew our incomes, unless I had a vast inheritance – which they knew I didn’t – then the question would be where is the money coming from?

Let me repeat the question:  Where is the money coming from?

When that question is asked – then there is a chance that unethical – if not fraudulent – behavior could be uncovered or discovered.  So there is no misunderstanding, I am not faulting my partners for my poor choices.  I made them.  I am responsible and accountable for them.  I paid the price for them.  That being said, had anyone – my family, my partners, anyone – questioned my income or income source, I would likely have been stopped in my tracks.

OUTCOME:

Today as I speak to groups nationwide I state: “Every choice has a consequence.”  I live that daily.  The choice I have made over the years have all had consequences – some good and some bad.  In my case, even though I made complete restitution plus interest to those I defrauded, I did spend time in Federal prison for my crimes.  Again, I am not proud of that outcome or my past choices.  But I am living proof that ILLUSION is a grand part of the fraud scheme.

AS ALWAYS – I AM OPEN TO YOUR COMMENTS:


Senator Grassley: Another Inquiry – What Did Pfizer Pay to Faculty Members at Harvard Medical School?

March 5, 2009

The last time I wrote about Senator Grassley was when he requested financial data from six tele-evanglists.  Looks like that went basically no where.  Too much resistance perhaps.  Now the Senator has requested information from Pfizer.    In a New York Times article it is reported that Senator Grassley asked the drug maker Pfizer to provide details of its payments to at least 149 faculty members at Harvard Medical School. charles-grassley

Senator Grassley’s letter is reproduced as follows:

Jeffrey B. Kindler
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Pfizer Inc.
235 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mr. Kindler:

The United States Senate Committee on Finance (Committee) has jurisdiction
over the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  As a senior member of the United States
Senate and as Ranking Member of the Committee, I have a special responsibility to the
more than 80 million Americans who receive health care coverage under those programs
to ensure that beneficiaries receive drugs that are both safe and effective.

For the last three years, the Committee has investigated various aspects of the
pharmaceutical industry including industry funding for Continuing Medical Education
(CME), and the failure of physicians to disclose payments from industry when applying
for grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Further, inquiries have led the
Committee to believe that physicians are failing to disclose the money they receive from
companies as required by federal regulations governing NIH grantees.

I am currently looking further into these concerns.  I was greatly disturbed to read
an article in The New York Times documenting an employee of your organization who
was taking cellphone photos of Harvard University (Harvard) medical students
demonstrating against pharmaceutical influence on campus.  I find this troubling as I
have documented several instances where pharmaceutical companies have attempted to
intimidate academic critics of drugs.  Last February, I sent a letter to the Secretary of
Health and Human Services pointing out that a pharmaceutical company hired a private
investigative firm to background an FDA public safety officer.

While I am not certain that photographing demonstrators rises to the same level, it
does raise concerns that Pfizer is attempting to intimidate young scholars from professing
their independent views on issues that they think are critical to science, medicine, and the
health and welfare of American taxpayers.

Accordingly, I request that you provide the following information:

1) A detailed account of payments and/or benefits of any kind that your company
has given to the 149 Harvard faculty members mentioned in The New York Times
article, and any other unreported Harvard doctors receiving payments.  The time
span of this request covers January 1, 2007 through the date of this letter.  For
each doctor receiving payments, please provide the following information for
each payment:

a. Name and title of doctor,
b. Date of payment,
c. Payment description (CME, honorarium, research support, etc),
d. Amount of payment, and
e. Year end or year-to-date payment.

2) Any communications to include emails, faxes, letters, and photos regarding
Harvard medical students demonstrating and/or agitating against pharmaceutical
influence in medicine.  The time span of this request covers January 1, 2008 to the
present.

In cooperating with the Committee’s review, no documents, records, data, or
other information related to these matters, either directly or indirectly, shall be destroyed,
modified, removed, or otherwise made inaccessible to the Committee.

I look forward to hearing from you by no later than March 10, 2009.  All
documents responsive to this request should be sent electronically, on a disc, in
searchable PDF format to Brian_Downey@finance-rep.senate.gov.  If you have any
questions, please do not hesitate to contact Paul Thacker or Emilia DiSanto at (202) 224-
4515.

In an article entitled: Harvard Medical School in Ethics Quandary the following was reported:03medschool1600

In a first-year pharmacology class at Harvard Medical School, Matt Zerden grew wary as the professor promoted the benefits of cholesterol drugs and seemed to belittle a student who asked about side effects.

Mr. Zerden later discovered something by searching online that he began sharing with his classmates. The professor was not only a full-time member of the Harvard Medical faculty, but a paid consultant to 10 drug companies, including five makers of cholesterol treatments.

“I felt really violated,” Mr. Zerden, now a fourth-year student, recently recalled. “Here we have 160 open minds trying to learn the basics in a protected space, and the information he was giving wasn’t as pure as I think it should be.”

Mr. Zerden’s minor stir four years ago has lately grown into a full-blown movement by more than 200 Harvard Medical School students and sympathetic faculty, intent on exposing and curtailing the industry influence in their classrooms and laboratories, as well as in Harvard’s 17 affiliated teaching hospitals and institutes.

As an ethics speaker, often I hear complaints about banking and finance, yet ethics extend into all areas of enterprise.  Pfizer has agreed, unlike the tele-evanglists, to cooperate fully with Grassley’s requests.  My guess is that Pfizer will be exposed for what likely has been an industry standard – shall we call it “payola”?  Harvard, without admitting guilt, of course, will find a source of funds drying up and be embarrassed by their choices or “ethics” being called into question.

What do you think?  Is it unethical for an individual or organization to take money from vendors when it has been an unspoken industry standard?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!