Tim Masters Finds Justice – at least $4.1 million of it! How do we answer the question now – Victim or Victor?

February 16, 2010

Almost one year ago I wrote the following related to a story that caught national headlines.  Tim Masters – wrongly imprisoned was angry and bitter.  Then I wrote:

As I rose this a.m. – checking e-mail, CNN – just checking in with the world I was faced with another article on Tim Masters – the Fort Collins, Colorado man who was wrongly imprisoned for 9 years.  This must have been an eternity, especially for an innocent man.  Having spent time in federal prison (justly deserved – as I was guilty), I know that prison can change you.  But, as a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, it wasn’t the wrongful imprisonment that caught my attention, it was the lead line of the article.

CNN’s writer states:  “Tim Masters squarely blames Fort Collins, Colorado, police and prosecutors for his inability to land gainful employment and for his not having a wife and kids at this stage in his life.”  The full CNN article can be found here.

Today, February 16, 2010 – some 10 days short of a year – CNN reports that Tim Masters may never get his life back (not completely), but $4.1 million as a settlement of a suit for wrongful imprisonment helps.  CNN reports:

It won’t make up for almost a decade of imprisonment, but a $4.1 million settlement is a “good start,” one of Tim Masters’ attorneys said Tuesday.

The Larimer County, Colorado, Board of Commissioners voted earlier Tuesday to settle a lawsuit that Masters filed after a judge exonerated him on a murder charge that put him behind bars in 1999.

“There’s no dollar figure that’s going to give him back his 10 years,” said David Wymore, one of the attorneys who represented Masters in the case. “Tim just wishes this never happened to him, but it did.”

Masters’ co-counsel David Lane emphasized there is still a lawsuit pending against the city and that Tuesday’s settlement represented only a “good start” to compensating a man who was “framed for a crime he did not commit.”

One year ago I wrote – Every choice has a consequence.  There must have been reasons that Tim was considered a suspect in the first place.  Not that it was his fault, but evaluating those actions (way back then) might prove to be powerful lessons to youth today.    Tim has a powerful story.  He can have an impact.  He will be heard.  The power to reach out to others and help them discover what and/or who they are and how their choices can shape their life is powerful.

I hope that as the issues with his suits against those involved in his wrongful imprisonment wind down that Tim can find some peace and channel his energy into using his experience to help others.  Tim has been a victim of a judicial system gone bad.  Yet, Tim has also emerged victorious in that truth came to light and (in a sense) he’s having his day in court.  No…money cannot replace the time lost, but then was it lost or has his experience created a foundation for him that can help others?

Tim…are you a victim or a victor?  Money aside…which is it?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


FBI Posts Warning about Haiti Relief Contribution Scams – Tips to avoid being Ripped Off

January 14, 2010

How unfortunate, but at a time when folks need help the most – at that same time – there are those who find the greatest opportunity to take advantage of those kind enough to offer help.  SCAMMERS are in full force concocting schemes to take money that you would give to help and instead help themselves.  Whether it’s 9/11 or Katrina – the disaster makes no difference – Scammers have one goal – DEFRAUD YOU.

More than 400 Internet addresses related to Haiti have been registered since Monday’s devastating quake, Internet security expert Joel Esler said. The names reference Haiti and words such as “earthquake,” “help,” “aid,” “victims” and “survivors.”

Here are tips offered by the FBI, Better Business Bureau and Scam.busters.  Also click here for a video on the subject.

SUMMARY TIPS:

  1. Be skeptical of email through Social Networking sites.  Don’t click on Links or attached files.
  2. Ask for the name and phone number of the charity or request that they put information in writing.
  3. Do Not give personal financial information – You’d be vulnerable to identity theft.
  4. Don’t be mislead by a “Sound Like” Charity name
  5. Ask if the Charity is registered with any organization and get the registration number.  Check with CharityNavigator.org.
  6. Ask what percentage of your gift actually reaches the needy.
  7. Don’t ever donate cash and DO NOT give out your credit car number to telemarketers or use it with a charity you have not checked out.
  8. If the person asks for more…that may be a sign something is wrong

If there is ever a time that the Haitian people need help it is now.  That is not true for Scammers.  Don’t fall prey to a scam.  Make sure your heart felt contribution goes directly to those who need it the most.

Here’s a link to a list of charities that are providing relief to the Haiti effort and have been signed off on by charitynavigator.org.  HAPPY GIVING TO YOU!

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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!


Tim Masters – Victim or Victor? Every Choice Has A Consequence!

February 26, 2009

As I rose this a.m. – checking e-mail, CNN – just checking in with the world I was faced with another article on Tim Masters – the Fort Collins, Colorado man who was wrongly imprisoned for 9 years.  This must have been an eternity, especially for an innocent man.  Having spent time in federal prison (justly deserved – as I was guilty), I know that prison can change you.  But, as a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, it wasn’t the wrongful imprisonment that caught my attention, it was the lead line of the article.

CNN’s writer states:  “Tim Masters squarely blames Fort Collins, Colorado, police and prosecutors for his inability to land gainful employment and for his not having a wife and kids at this stage in his life.”  The full CNN article can be found heretim-masters-youth

I know as I type these next words I am opening myself up to both positive and negative comments.  But, sometimes you have to go for it if you expect positive change to take place.  If the article is an accurate portrayal of how Tim Masters feels and thinks, then…

TIM MASTERS is playing the VICTIM role well!

In my experience, some thirteen years following my prison experience, VICTIMS remain such wallowing in self pity and anger.  Anger, self pity, blaming others for their plight, – you name it – just think of victims you know or have known – none of those feelings or emotions are empowering or bring about positive change.

Here are excerpts from the article:

CNN: Do you have trouble finding a job because of your time in jail?

Masters: Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with it. The first thing that comes up on a background check is “charges dismissed — first-degree murder.”

Better questions are Tim – what are you doing to look for employment opportunities?  Do you disclose your background well before the background check?  Do you capitalize on your notoriety garnering understanding for your unfortunate circumstance and give others a chance to reach out a hand to help?

In my experience, being a convicted felon is an obstacle.  But in Tim’s case he was acquitted.  He is innocent and most people can find compassion to give someone in Tim’s circumstance a chance.  I have found employment in both a publicly traded company and private enterprise since prison and I was guilty – unlike Tim.

The article continues:

CNN: If you could talk to the prosecutors or police who handled your case, what would you say to them?

Masters: I don’t want to talk to them at all.

CNN: Talk about your lawsuit against the prosecutors and police. Who does it target?

Masters: Mainly, [former prosecutors, now Judges] Jolene Blair and Terri Gilmore and [Fort Collins police Lt.] Jim Broderick, but there are a few other defendants involved and the city, but in my mind those are the big three.

I do not fault Tim for his lawsuit.  The law is there to protect, which includes protecting someone for their life being permanently altered by incorrect incarceration.  Given similar circumstances, I would likely do the same.  However, I can’t help but wonder if, while that is taking place, Tim could focus his energy toward something that is positive and empowering?

Like what – one might ask?

Every choice has a consequence.  There must have been reasons that Tim was considered a suspect in the first place.  Not that it was his fault, but evaluating those actions (way back then) might prove to be powerful lessons to youth today.    Tim has a powerful story.  He can have an impact.  He will be heard.  The power to reach out to others and help them discover what and/or who they are and how their choices can shape their life is powerful.  timothymasters

I was sad today to read about Tim and where he is.   The tone of the story and answers to the  questions didn’t feel empowering.  They felt, at least to me, that those who falsely imprisoned Tim had won! Tim can have a wife, a family and a great life – it is truly a matter of CHOICE!

VICTIM or VICTOR – Tim the choice is yours!

Comments welcome!


Drowing in Debt? Eliminate It! – Founders of Nationwide Debt Elimination Scheme – Dorean Group – Sentenced to Federal Prison! White Collar Crime Speaker Chuck Gallagher Says “There’s No Such Thing As a Free Ride”

March 22, 2008

The target – people drowning in debt, their nose barely above water, needing help. The solution (so they thought) was the Dorean Group. The outcome – a big fat scam. There is no such thing as a free ride.

Kurt F. Johnson, age 45, and Dale Scott Heineman, age 48, were sentenced last week for their roles in creating this national debt elimination scheme. Johnson will spend 25 years in federal prison (that’s 55% of his life thus far) – exiting prison after his 65th birthday. Heineman was sentenced to 21 years – likewise, exiting after his 65th birthday.

prison-hands.jpg

Can you imagine being in the prime of your life and finding yourself facing, what could be the most productive years of your life, in federal prison? Sad.

According to the US Attorney’s news release:

From 2003 to 2005, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Heineman operated as the Dorean Group from offices in Union City and Newark, California. Together they orchestrated a mortgage elimination scheme whereby fraudulent documents were recorded as part of their clients’ titles to make it appear as though mortgage lenders’ secured interests in the properties were canceled when, in fact, the corresponding mortgage and home equity loans had not been fully repaid. At the direction of the Dorean Group, some of its clients used these fraudulently-generated “free and clear” titles to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in new home equity loans from lenders who were led to believe that the properties were unencumbered by loans. Clients who obtained new loans paid 50-75% of the funds to the Dorean Group. At least 20 lenders and as many as 3,500 homeowners throughout 35 states were victimized by Mr. Johnson, Mr. Heineman, and the Dorean Group.

A Dorean Group “broker” charged with participating in the conspiracy was also sentenced along with Mr. Heineman and Mr. Johnson. In August 2007, William Julian, 44, of Cayce, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud. Mr. Julian was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.

Information related to the scheme was reported on scamfraudalert.com in 2005. An excerpt is shown here:

Dorean Group, headquartered in suburban Oakland, California, uses independent agents to promote its program. One such representative, Capital Creation Resource, describes the program on its website (www.ccrsolution.com). After paying a $3,000 fee, the homeowner agrees to place the title to their home in a family trust, then present the lender a document that contains 40-50 “legal” challenges to the loan. Dubbed the “CPA Report”, this document outlines 40-50 claimed “violations” of federal laws committed by the lender. The lender must respond with proof of the validity of the loan. When the lender fails to respond, a power of attorney is filed which gives the trustees authority to act on behalf of the lender. Using the power of attorney, a “Discharge of Mortgage” is filed certifying that the loan has been fully paid.

The next step is to apply for refinancing on the home. Once obtained, the homeowner, their Dorean Group Agent and Dorean Group divide the funds. This new loan is then “eliminated” using the same technique.

The BBB’s investigation led it to the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s office where evidence was found of several properties involved in this activity. All had a quitclaim deed filed giving ownership of the home to the trust. Two Dorean officials appear as trustees on these quitclaims, D. Scott Heineman and Kurt F. Johnson. These same individuals appear on power of attorney and discharge of mortgage paperwork.

Obviously the Better Business Bureau was on to something in early January of 2005 as both were indicted by a grand jury on September 22, 2005.

VICTIM OR NOT? It has been reported that as many as 3500 homeowners have been victimized. What may be controversial is whether these folks were “victims”? I have no doubt that they have suffered losses and extreme trouble as a result of Johnson and Heineman’s scam. But, are they victims? That question tends to evoke emotion. But in order to be a victim there need to be several parts that come together at essentially the same time: (1) No knowledge; (2) no personal gain; and (3) direct suffering as a result.

I submit that the 3500 homeowners did not know they were being scammed – true – but were seeking a way out of debt that clearly was legally manipulative in hopes that they could get more money and eliminate debt. The “victims” had a vested interest in the process and outcome – and had it worked, would have been unjustly enriched. The fact that it didn’t doesn’t mean they were “victims.” What is does mean is they were gullible, duped and at the core was the desire to gain something for nothing.

Now let me be clear – you don’t have to commit the crime in order to have played a part in the overall drama. And, if, in any way, you played a part, then you can’t be a VICTIM. If you played a role in a scheme to get legitimate debt eliminated, you are not victimized as the motivation was to victimize the debt holder. While I know that statement will be unpopular, it is nonetheless right.

As a speaker on white collar crime and business ethics, I often say: “Every choice has a consequence!” Again, with substantial prison sentences issued once again the fact that you reap what you sow has come true. Remember, only positive choices can yield positive results.

Feel free to comment – especially if you were duped by this group. Your comments may help others!