Bernie Madoff and Mark Madoff’s suicide – the Reality of Prison! Choices and Consequences

December 13, 2010

Doing presentations on business ethics and fraud prevention, every presentation I begin starts with the statement – “Every choice has a consequence!”  No where is this more painfully obvious then the very public unfolding of the consequences begun many years ago by Bernie Madoff.

Two years to the day – the day Bernie Madoff admitted creating the largest Ponzi scheme in US history, his son, Mark Madoff, committed suicide.  Apparently the pressure of all that was taking place (as the Madoff saga is far from over) was far too much for Mark to bear.

Some might ask, well how would you know?  The answer is simple…I’ve been there.  Having created a Ponzi scheme (not something I am proud of, but it is a fact that I openly share), I know about the emotional pressures that come with the consequences of choices I made.  The magnitude of my crime is dwarfed by that of Bernie Madoff.  Yet, pressure is pressure and likely it is all relative.

I candidly feel for Mark Madoff – knowing that his “dark night of the soul” had to be very light less in order for him to elect to end his life.  Beyond that, the pain that Bernie Madoff must feel is, too, enormous.  Even as I write this I can almost hear readers shaming me for having some compassion for Bernie.  But, honestly, I do.  The pain a father must feel knowing that his actions contributed to a depth of depression that contributed to his son taking his life is great.  I cannot honestly imagine that pain.

According to Ira Sorkin, Bernie Madoff’s attorney, Madoff will not attend the funeral of his son, Mark, out of consideration for his daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

Housed in a medium security prison for the rest of his life, Bernie Madoff has had his life reduced to working for around 12 cents per hour and wearing simple prison clothing day in and day out.  His brilliance will not be remembered.  Rather he has become the butt of jokes – “Charles Ponzi created the scheme, but Bernie Madoff with all the money!”  What a sad legacy.

As I said…I know the feelings of loss, inadequacy, hurt and what I and others have described as a “dark night of the soul.”  My new book describes my experience well.  Perhaps this excerpt will give some insight into that feeling that comes from facing a consequence that seems so great that ending a life is the only option – at least at the time.

SECOND CHANCES – excerpt:

At 7:11 p.m. that evening, I grabbed the Yellow Pages and began calling clinics─anyone who I thought might help me. Frankly, I don’t recall what I was looking up. I do remember that there were no listings under “suicide”─in fact, that wasn’t a category. So I looked up physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, anything that started with a “P”. Honestly, I don’t remember who I did call─a proctologist, as far as I knew. The only thing that flooded my mind was I needed help.

“You’ve reached the office of Drs . . . Our office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Our office is closed. But if you’ll leave your name and number, we’ll be happy to call you first thing in the morning. Have a nice day!” Somehow, when you’re thinking of ending your life, “have a nice day” just doesn’t seem appropriate. And unfortunately, that’s the message I got over and over.

Calling became an obsession. It was the one thing I could do, one action that I felt in life I had some control over. “Just one more dial,” I would say to myself as I pressed the buttons on the phone, listening to the ring, hoping for an answer.

“Dr. Benson’s office.” That was the second time that day I was stunned. After getting recording after recording, I was somewhat unprepared for the possibility that someone would answer. Yet someone did.

“I need to talk with someone. I’m from out of town,” I somehow stammered.

“Actually, our office is closed. I was just walking out the door and thought this was my wife. Give us a call in the morni . . . ”  Before he could finish his sentence, I blurted, “I’m thinking of committing suicide!”

Silence─then the voice said, “Let’s talk.”

For the life of me, I can’t recall what was said between us as I lay on that lonely hotel bed. We could have talked for two minutes, twenty minutes, or two hours. I just don’t remember. What I do recall is that this total stranger, a man who I had never met, took the time to help me see past the grand illusion I had created and uncover the real me inside.

That night was the darkest night of my soul. That call that I shared didn’t make it better. It didn’t eliminate the consequences. It didn’t remove the pain. Rather, it gave me hope, hope that if I could make poor choices that would, most certainly, bring painful consequences, I also possessed the power to make positive choices with positive results.

His comment to me still resounds in my heart today. He said, “You have made a terrible mistake, but YOU are not a mistake! The choices you make moving forward will define your life forever and provide the foundation for your children’s lives. Think carefully as you make this choice!”

When he said to me, “YOU are not a mistake,” it hit me─while the past cannot be changed, the life we are given and the choices we make moving forward are the only things that count. I felt a burden lifted. I could not change the past; all I could do was face the consequences.  It was within my power to make good choices, now and in the future, that would produce a fruitful outcome. That was my destiny!

For information on how to obtain a copy of SECOND CHANCES – visit www.secondchancesbook.com or Amazon.com


Dennis Gerwing – Embezzlement – Suicide – The Dark Side of White Collar Crime

April 23, 2008

I remember the day – a fateful day – when it all began to unravel. As soon as the first words were spoken in that phone conversation, I knew that my life was about to change and change for good. For me, all this took place in November of 1990. As I talked to one of my partners on a break from business out of town, I was innocently confronted by a fact that I had kept hidden – the fact that I had embezzled money.

My partner was unaware that there was anything wrong. He was just trying to help me by meeting a clients needs. But by doing so, I knew that my shadow side was soon to be exposed. I was a thief – a white collar criminal – and the time had now come for me to face the consequences of my actions.

Why state that here and what does it have to do with Dennis Gerwing? Well, like Gerwing, I had embezzled money (not the magnitude that he embezzled, but then money is money no matter the amount). The other more significant connection – I, too, considered suicide!

But, let’s look at Dennis Gerwing. Who he was and what happened – as best as it has been reported.

The Island Packet reported in mid March the following:

Dennis Gerwing’s business career on Hilton Head Island goes back to the 1980s. In August 1985, he was named head of the finance and administration division of Ginn Holdings Corp., then the island’s largest resort and development company. Ginn Holdings, led by developer Bobby Ginn, was the company resulting from a leveraged buyout that combined the old Sea Pines Co. and the Hilton Head Co. Gerwing had been vice president and controller for the Sea Pines Co.

The newly formed company controlled developer operations in the Sea Pines, Shipyard, Wexford, Port Royal and Indigo Run communities. But Ginn Holdings unraveled quickly. The company was sold in March 1986, a year after the Ginn purchase, and its name changed to Hilton Head Holdings Corp. Nine months later, it was in bankruptcy. The Hilton Head Holdings bankruptcy was a $100 million affair, with about 2,000 unsecured creditors — many of them local businesses — that were owed about $10 million. The rest of the debt was held in mortgages on prime property in Hilton Head.

After the demise of Ginn Holdings, a company called The Club Group was formed by Mark King, who had been director of sports for Ginn Holdings. The Club Group was a golf and amenity management company. Gerwing joined King at The Club Group by at least 1987, according to Island Packet stories. King is currently president of The Club Group and Gerwing was its chief financial officer.

The story begins an odd twist when John and Elizabeth Calvert, who split their time between their home in Atlanta, GA and a yacht on Hilton Head Island. The couple was last seen in March and effort to find them have been fruitless. Gerwing was the last person to have seen the Calverts. After being questioned by the authorities related to the disappearance of John and Elizabeth Calvert, Gerwing committed suicide on March 11th.

Now, the rest of the story as it is known thus far. Dennis Gerwing, the former chief financial officer of The Club Group, a property management company, handled bookkeeping for John and Elizabeth Calverts’ four island businesses through December, when the couple sought to move those duties in-house. He funneled money from clients into a secret checking account using hand-written checks, bank teller transactions and wire transfers, the audit found. Gerwing, according to a Club Group audit, embezzled a total of $2.1 million from the pair and seven other clients over the past four years, according to the results of a financial audit announced Tuesday.

The Island Packet reported, “In the wake of Gerwing’s apparent suicide, Club Group president Mark King hired Baltimore-based FTI Consulting to examine the company’s books. King, in a statement released after Gerwing died, said he had discovered possible financial irregularities and brought in the crisis management forensic accounting firm.”

CNN reports: Mark King, president of The Club Group, said he met last week with the clients who lost money and promised to repay them using money from his own assets as well as Gerwing’s estate and insurance settlements.

“I am still in shock over the betrayal of trust and the death of my partner of 21 years. I have no idea what might have prompted Dennis to engage in this behavior, but as chief executive, I want to apologize on behalf of our company to all who were adversely affected,” King said in a statement.

Comments: First, I can sympathize with what Mark King is going through. Betrayed trust is hard to deal with and understand. King is finding himself in a situation that I doubt he ever expected to be in – right in the middle of an investigation that likely involves murder. King’s life has been turned upside down and it will not resolve anytime soon.

Again CNN reported, The FBI will review the audit as part of its own investigation into the finances of Gerwing, the Calverts and The Club Group, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner told The (Hilton Head) Island Packet.

“I can’t support anything they put in there,” he said of the private audit. “It could be self-serving on their part or it could be what we find in the end. We’re too far from this investigation being over to make that determination.”

Investigators continue to pore over thousands of e-mails and check computers and cell phones in their search for the couple, Tanner said.

So, King finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, dealing with the death of his partner and now finding that he (Gerwing) had embezzled a substantial sum of money. King is now, in fact, under suspicion considering when funds are missing, any and all associated with the accountability of the funds are considered suspects – of sorts.

As I look back, now some 18 years, I have empathy for my former partners and what they had to deal with in the wake of my misdealings. They knew nothing and had nothing to do with my crime, yet, in many ways that, too, paid the price for the choices I made.

Suicide. Yes, sad to say, I gave that serious consideration. It was an easy escape from the consequences that I knew were before me. But, thankful to God, someone – a stranger – made a statement that I will never forget – a statement that changed my thought process and my life.

He said, “You have made a terrible mistake! YOU, however, are not a mistake. The choices you make tonight will define the legacy you will leave for your children.”

Every choice has a consequence. I know that to be true as I had to experience the consequences of my actions – which took me to federal prison. Today, some 18 years later, my youngest son is graduating from High School and preparing to enter college. What I was told so many years ago was accurate. Today as I speak around the country on business ethics and fraud avoidance, I know so well the fact that you reap what you sow. Likewise, the consequences one faces from choices made, serve only to make the person stronger.

My heart goes out to the family of Dennis Gerwing. He made a terrible mistake! Apparently, he was unprepared to face the consequences. How sad!

Comments are welcome!


MySpace Agrees To “Safer Space” Measures! Great Move Says Teen Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher

January 15, 2008

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MySpace, the huge social networking site that attracts millions of users announced Monday (January 14, 2008) that it will make changes designed to help prevent sexual predators from misusing the site. This was done with the agreement of more than 45 states.

According to an article from the Associated Press, the agreement was announced by various attorney generals from New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and others. The article states:

Several states’ attorneys general said in a statement that the huge social networking Web site has agreed to add several protections and participate in a working group to develop new technologies, including a way to verify the ages of users. Other social networking sites will be invited to participate.

There have been well publicised issues with fraud, fake identification and a variety of inappropriate uses by those who would prey on our children. A clear example of issues that our youth can face was the 2006 web suicide reported in an earlier blog.

“The Internet can be a dangerous place for children and young adults, with sexual predators surfing social networking sites in search of potential victims and cyber bullies sending threatening and anonymous messages,” said New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram.

“We thank the attorneys general for a thoughtful and constructive conversation on Internet safety,” MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a written statement. “This is an industrywide challenge, and we must all work together to create a safer Internet.”

MySpace, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., will also accept independent monitoring and changes the structure of its site.

MySpace agreed to the following changes (to name a few):

  • Parents can submit their children’s e-mail addresses to MySpace to prevent anyone from misusing the e-mail address to set up fake profiles
  • The default setting for 16 and 17 year olds will be marked “private”
  • Strengthen the software to identify underage users
  • Add more staff and resources to classify photos and discussion groups
  • Respond to complaints about inappropriate content within 72 hours
  • Create a high school section for users under 18 years of age

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have come under intense scrutiny as it has almost become a playground for sexual predators. It has been reported that New York officials created (fake) profiles as 12 to 14 year olds and were quickly contacted by others who were seeking sex. This type of behavior has created the furor over making “cyberspace” a safer place to truly social network.

As a teen ethics speaker, I often find kids who will share interesting stories about the solicitations they have received from Facebook and MySpace. And, if they will share with me, then I know that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. Teens are often open and venera

ble to attack as they have yet to develop the defense in knowing what is safe. I applaud MySpace on their actions thus far…

What do you think of the actions taken my MySpace thus far? What would you suggest as additional measures that MySpace could take to improve safety?


Web Suicide – A MySpace Teen Tragedy! Teen Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher Comments

January 9, 2008

In 2006 a Missouri teenager hanged herself after being rejected by a 16 year old boy she met on MySpace. Well, at least that’s what she thought. The reality was the “16 year old boy” was really the mother of one of the girls former friends.

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The motive? It seems the mother was allegedly trying to exact revenge on Meier, who had allegedly dissed her daughter. This sick, twisted and childish choice took and emotional toll on a young person who was emotionally vulnerable and cost her – her life!

According to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog: ”

Missouri authorities looked into the case, but didn’t file any charges against the mother for her alleged role in the hoax. They couldn’t find any criminal statute under which to try and hold her responsible for the girl’s death. The case touched off a national uproar over Internet laws and cyber-bullying.”

The Los Angeles Times reports:

But after months of investigation, no charges were filed against Lori Drew for her alleged role in the hoax. Prosecutors in Missouri said they were unable to find a statute under which to pursue a criminal case.

Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, however, are exploring the possibility of charging Drew with defrauding the MySpace social networking website by allegedly creating the false account, according to the sources, who insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

The sources said prosecutors are looking at federal wire fraud and cyber fraud statutes as they consider the case. Prosecutors believe they have jurisdiction because MySpace is headquartered in Beverly Hills, the sources said.

First, I think we would all agree that an adult’s actions perpetrated in fraud that contributed to the death of a teen is an extraordinary tragedy. But what should be done? What should the consequence be if you use fraud to contribute to the death of another? What pain was wrought on the parents of this young girl? And, what pain, if any, has the mother involved here felt – knowing that a fraudulent MySpace account was a contributing factor leading to the death of this young girl?

Every choice has a consequence!

As an ethics speaker, I routinely speak to young people – both college and high school – about the choice they make and the consequences that follow. http://www.chuckgallagher.com

I readily admit that this story is a tragic example of how easily an unsuspecting person can become caught up in something where the consequences are beyond belief.

Reported in the Suburban Journals on November 13, 2007 by Steve Pokin is the following excerpt:

His name was Josh Evans. He was 16 years old. And he was hot.

“Mom! Mom! Mom! Look at him!” Tina Meier recalls her daughter saying.

Josh had contacted Megan Meier through her MySpace page and wanted to be added as a friend.Yes, he’s cute, Tina Meier told her daughter. “Do you know who he is?”

“No, but look at him! He’s hot! Please, please, can I add him?”

Mom said yes. And for six weeks Megan and Josh – under Tina’s watchful eye – became acquainted in the virtual world of MySpace.

Josh said he was born in Florida and recently had moved to O’Fallon. He was homeschooled. He played the guitar and drums.

He was from a broken home: “when i was 7 my dad left me and my mom and my older brother and my newborn brother 3 boys god i know poor mom yeah she had such a hard time when we were younger finding work to pay for us after he loeft.”

As for 13-year-old Megan, of Dardenne Prairie, this is how she expressed who she was:

M is for Modern

E is for Enthusiastic

G is for Goofy

A is for Alluring

N is for Neglected.

She loved swimming, boating, fishing, dogs, rap music and boys. But her life had not always been easy, her mother says.

She was heavy and for years had tried to lose weight. She had attention deficit disorder and battled depression. Back in third grade she had talked about suicide, Tina says, and ever since had seen a therapist.

But things were going exceptionally well. She had shed 20 pounds, getting down to 175. She was 5 foot 5½ inches tall.

She had just started eighth grade at a new school, Immaculate Conception, in Dardenne Prairie, where she was on the volleyball team. She had attended Fort Zumwalt public schools before that.

Amid all these positives, Tina says, her daughter decided to end a friendship with a girlfriend who lived down the street from them. The girls had spent much of seventh grade alternating between being friends and, the next day, not being friends, Tina says.

Part of the reason for Megan’s rosy outlook was Josh, Tina says. After school, Megan would rush to the computer.

“Megan had a lifelong struggle with weight and self-esteem,” Tina says. “And now she finally had a boy who she thought really thought she was pretty.”

It did seem odd, Tina says, that Josh never asked for Megan’s phone number. And when Megan asked for his, she says, Josh said he didn’t have a cell and his mother did not yet have a landline.

And then on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006, Megan received a puzzling and disturbing message from Josh. Tina recalls that it said: “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.”

Frantic, Megan shot back: “What are you talking about?”

Monday, Oct. 16, 2006, was a rainy, bleak day. At school, Megan had handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party and when she got home she asked her mother to log on to MySpace to see if Josh had responded.

Why did he suddenly think she was mean? Who had he been talking to?

Tina signed on. But she was in a hurry. She had to take her younger daughter, Allison, to the orthodontist.

Before Tina could get out the door it was clear Megan was upset. Josh still was sending troubling messages. And he apparently had shared some of Megan’s messages with others.

Tina recalled telling Megan to sign off.

“I will Mom,” Megan said. “Let me finish up.”

Tina was pressed for time. She had to go. But once at the orthodontist’s office she called Megan: Did you sign off?

“No, Mom. They are all being so mean to me.”

“You are not listening to me, Megan! Sign off, now!”

Fifteen minutes later, Megan called her mother. By now Megan was in tears.

“They are posting bulletins about me.” A bulletin is like a survey. “Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat.”

Megan was sobbing hysterically. Tina was furious that she had not signed off.

Once Tina returned home she rushed into the basement where the computer was. Tina was shocked at the vulgar language her daughter was firing back at people.

“I am so aggravated at you for doing this!” she told Megan.

Megan ran from the computer and left, but not without first telling Tina, “You’re supposed to be my mom! You’re supposed to be on my side!”

On the stairway leading to her second-story bedroom, Megan ran into her father, Ron.

“I grabbed her as she tried to go by,” Ron says. “She told me that some kids were saying horrible stuff about her and she didn’t understand why. I told her it’s OK. I told her that they obviously don’t know her. And that it would be fine.”

Megan went to her room and Ron went downstairs to the kitchen, where he and Tina talked about what had happened, the MySpace account, and made dinner.

Twenty minutes later, Tina suddenly froze in mid-sentence.

“I had this God-awful feeling and I ran up into her room and she had hung herself in the closet.”

Megan Taylor Meier died the next day, three weeks before her 14th birthday.

Later that day, Ron opened his daughter’s MySpace account and viewed what he believes to be the final message Megan saw – one the FBI would be unable to retrieve from the hard drive.

It was from Josh and, according to Ron’s best recollection, it said, “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”

To read the entire article click here: http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2007/11/13/news/sj2tn20071110-1111stc_pokin_1.ii1.txt

Some questions for your response:

  • What, if anything, should happen to those who participated in this cruel hoax?
  • Should there be laws that make such behavior (on-line) criminal (fraudulent accounts, etc.)?
  • Do the parents have any culpability in this as they allowed their daughter on MySpace?

The copyrighted world wide definition of ETHICS involves TWO PARTS:

  1. Doing specific things to make yourself and the world better, and
  2. Avoiding doing other specific things (i.e. setting boundaries for yourself to avoid) so that you don’t needlessly hurting yourself, or others with BAD personal judgment

There is no question that the fake MySpace account was an ethical violation by any standard I can find. Perhaps our teens (and younger) need to learn early on the power of ethical choice.

Chuck Gallagher’s work with teens and ethics:

Chuck Gallagher - The Ethics Expert

The Choices Foundation is a tax-exempt charitable non-profit organization established by Chuck Gallagher to accomplish two educational purposes.

First, the Choices Foundation supports providing ethical educational presentations, workshops, and keynotes to universities, colleges, high schools and religious organizations. Chuck, and other speakers, talk to young people about ethics, honesty, integrity, the choices they make and the consequences that follow.

The Choices Foundation believes that if you make an impression about ethics on young people before they enter into the business community or become established in adulthood by helping them see the relationship between choice and consequences, they may become more personally and professionally productive and ethical adults. After all, personal integrity and ethics are the backbone of adult society.

Second, the Choices Foundation provides educational scholarships to children who come from a disadvantaged background and/or whose parent(s) are incarcerated. Education can help break the cycles of poverty and poor choice, yet those who need an education the most are those who can least afford to receive the benefit. Hence, the Choices Foundation is established to help fund that need and uplift our underprivileged youth.

For information on my presentations to youth, please visit my web site at http://www.chuckgallagher.com/foundation.php

Comments are welcome!


Texas Motivation Speaker – Chuck Gallagher speaks on “Saving A Life! One Choice At A Time…”

November 22, 2007

Chuck Gallagher, Ethics Speaker

Being stuck in traffic really stinks at times and this morning was no exception. I had just heard the radio play the commercial that I had made for a local company and recall the up coming news tickler. Planning to turn my radio off or switch to satellite radio, I heard something that peaked my interest – so I left it on that station just a bit longer.

The announcer, returning from a commercial break, began to share a story that so touched me, I elected to include it in my presentations – as it spoke clearly and innocently to the focus of every presentation I make – that being – Every Choice Has A Consequence.

It seems that a young man – actually better put a school kid – in the sixth grade was being acknowledged as the citizen of the week by this station in Dallas, TX. Now, Dallas isn’t small…so for a school kid to be the citizen of the week, well I just had to hear the story.

Seems that one fine morning the kids had gathered at lunch, just visiting with each other, when one of his buddies got choked on an orange slice. Now, for any of us who have been choked…one thing you can’t do is ask for help – kinda hard when you can’t breathe. When the kids noticed what was happening most of them gathered around just looking in disbelief. You can imagine the scene – one kid choking to death – as others gathered and watched.

But not our citizen of the week. He, without giving it a thought, jumped into the middle of the group, placed his arms around his buddy and did the Heimlich maneuver dislodging the orange slice and rescuing the choking victim. He seemed to think nothing of it – but I’m sure the kid he saved has a much different feel for the whole experience.

Faced with mounding publicity, this young man seemed to take it in stride. Of course his mother was beaming with pride as her son was recognized for his heroic action. The reported asked, “Just how did you learn how to do the Heimlich?” Without hesitation the boy answered, “Why watching the movies – of course!” Taken back his mother leaned over and asked, “What movie, sweetie?” With an almost indignant tone, he replied, “Mom…Mrs. Doubtfire! Don’t you remember?”

The news anchor laughed and for once I enjoyed hearing something that created hope – good news on the radio.

Just today another story was reported out of Jacksonville, Florida. http://www.news4jax.com/news/14652643/detail.html

This story was similar in content and in the feel good human interest side of the news. It’s wonderful to talk about those choices in life that make a profound “life and death” difference. What makes them so interesting to me…is that neither of those two kids woke up, got dressed for school, and on the way out the door told their parents, “You know I think I’ll save someone today.”

When others stepped back and refused to take action, these two people stepped forward and made choices – unanticipated choices – that saved lives.

That happened to me back in 1990 – I mean someone then entered my life quite unexpectedly and made a profound statement that was life changing. He said, as I was experiencing my “Dark night of the Soul,” – “You made a mistake, but You are not that Mistake! The choices you make next will define who you really are and the legacy you will leave for your children.” As I considered suicide that night, he, in a few simple words, made the choice to stick with me and help me clear away the fog and see clearly who I could become for the first time in a long time.

Today, as a Texas Motivational Speaker, I speak to groups nationwide about choices and consequences. These two youthful examples show the power that one choice can have – saving a life. What choices have you made that have made a difference to you or other peoples lives?

For information on presentations on the Power of One visit my web site: http://www.chuckgallagher.com

Any comments?

Texas Motivational Speaker – Chuck Gallagher – signing off…