What have all the Ethics gone? Seems that Fraud is rampant! Business Ethics expert Chuck Gallagher comments

December 21, 2009

All too often I’m asked, especially as we review this past year on the anniversary month of the disclosure of Bernie Madoff’s fraud, whether fraud should decrease since we are more focused on ethics and ethical choices. Unfortunately, as I see it the answer is a resounding no!   Yet, the Ethics Resource Center in their new 2009 biennial National Business Ethics Survey reported a surprising conclusion:

We behave better in bad times.  “Contrary to what one might expect, misconduct declines in turbulent economic times and rises when the pressure’s off,” the report says.  When asked about specific abuses or ethical lapses – such as misusing company resources, lying to outside stakeholders or falsifying time or expenses – a smaller percentage of U.S. workers observed problems this year compared with the 2007 survey, taken before the recession began.  “Yet our research suggests that the improvements in ethical conduct will be temporary,” warned the ethics center’s CEO, Patricia Harned.

As I review ethics issues weekly I must say that I have a hard time believing in the validity of their survey.  Just look at these stories reported on here the first two weeks of this month.

Patricia Wilson, 57, of Draper, Virginia, has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $167,000 from the Memorial Christian Church where she had served as the church bookkeeper for 9 years. Prosecutors alleged last April that Wilson diverted most of the monies from the Church’s building fund but also from it’s general fund.

Casey Jane Goebel, of Indio, California, was arrested last week for allegedly embezzling at least $250,000 from Hyde’s Air Conditioning where she had been employed as a bookkeeper. According to authorities, Goebel’s thefts ocurred between August 2007 and July 2009

Robin K. Ramey, 48, of Huntington, Ohio, pleaded guilty to charges she embezzled some $185,000 from the Huntington National Bank where she was a longtime employee, ultimately rising to the level of supervisor. Ramey caused at least 86 wire transfers in bank funds to be sent to her personal checking and saving accounts. If the plea agreement holds, Ramey will be ordered to spend two years in prison and repay the bank. She is scheduled to be sentenced on January 21, 2010.

Jessica Harmon, 32, of Lowell, Michigan, has been charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from a unnamed local law firm where she had been employed apparently in a bookkeeping position. The thefts reportedly occurred over a 3 year period. Specifically, Harmon faces charges of embezzlement of more than $20,000, uttering and publishing and using a computer to commit a crime. Harmon, who had been employed by the law firm for 10 years, allegedly made unauthorized withdrawals from firm accounts and wrote herself extra pay checks.

Capt. Michael Dung Nguyen, 28, of Beaverton, Oregon, pleaded guilty Monday to theft and money-laundering charges related to the theft of some $690,000 in cash intended for relief and reconstruction in Iraq. Nguyen was the U.S. Army battalion civil affairs officer in Muqdadiyah, Iraq and had been entrusted with cash designated for local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan for urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction. He was indicted last March on charges of theft of government property, structuring financial transactions and money laundering. The thefts occurred between April 2007 and February 2009, according to the indictment. He spend some of the money on luxury vehicles, among other personal items.

Three components come together when a fraud, like the ones reported above, take place.  NEED – OPPORTUNITY and RATIONALIZATION.  In the cases above – I cannot speak to the first and third component – Need and Rationalization, but in each case the fraudster exploited a weakness or put another way – found an OPPORTUNITY.

Patricia Wilson used her trusted position as church bookkeeper (9 years no less) to  exploit what was likely a weak system of internal controls for Memorial Christian Church.  Likewise, two other bookkeepers, Casey Jane Goebel and Jessica Harmon, used their positions of trust to embezzle funds from their employers.  Robin K. Ramey stated, related to her embezzlement, “Why it took so long is that (the bank) doesn’t usually check there.”  Finally, Capt. Michael Dung Nguyen had been entrusted with cash to benefit members of the US military.

What was common in each of the cases above – TRUST.  Did each of the fraudsters know better?  Sure they did!  Were they at one time ethical – I would guess so.  Yet, in each of their lives they made choices – choices that clearly reflect unethical behavior and consequences that are life changing that follow.

As a business ethics speaker, I often state to audiences – Every Choice Has A Consequence.

COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.  If you knew either of the individuals mentioned above – perhaps you’d be willing to share what motivated them to make the choices they made.


Banking Embezzlement! What Motivated Rebecca Dawn Long to Commit Fraud?

November 4, 2008

As I prepare to write this entry, I must start out by saying that I know exactly what Rebecca Dawn Long is going through here in 2008. I went through the same thing in 1990 and I know how painful the process can be. I, too, (not proud of this) embezzled money and had to expose myself – to my family, friends and the community I lived in – as a liar and a thief. The experience was humbling, terribly painful, and a turning point in my life. So, for those who read – my motivation is not in any way to tear down Ms. Long, but rather to explore – for the benefit of those who read – what motivates someone to commit a fraud and subsequently destroy a life (at least for a time).

First, let’s define fraud: “A knowing misrepresentation of the truth or concealment of a material fact to induce another to act to his or her detriment.”

According to the US Attorney’s office, Ms. Long, between December 2004 and September 2008, devised andistock_000002775172small executed a scheme to obtain money from The Peoples Bank of Ewing by establishing a line of credit under a fictitious name. After establishing the false credit line, Long allegedly withdrew $487,685.23.

The indictment also charges that Long created and faxed a fraudulent loan document to an office of The Peoples Bank for the purposes of disguising the fact that she had embezzled over $487,000 from that financial institution.

Assuming the indictment is true – that meets the definition of fraud. The broader question is motivation!

THE FRAUD TRIANGLE: Fraud arises when three elements exist simultaneously: (1) need or unsharable financial pressures; (2) Opportunity or perceived opportunity; and (3) Rationalization or the ability to convince yourself that what is wrong is right.

NEED: Need generally comes from an (a) excessive lifestyle; (b) gambling or drugs (in the case of men -perhaps women); (c) debt, poor credit, financial losses; or (d) pressure to succeed from family – job – peers or company. In my case, the need arose from (a) and (c) – too great a lifestyle and too much debt. For those who may know – in Rebecca’s case which was the motivating factor?

OPPORTUNITY: Here’s a fact – “Potential fraudsters who think they will get caught rarely commit crimes. Therefore, for those of us who have been catagorized as “fraudsters” – the opportunity most likely was poor or insufficient internal controls. Now I doubt that the bank will admit to their role in the fraud scheme, but insufficient internal controls creates “opportunity.” More important was what loophole did Rebecca choose to effect the crime she is charged with?

RATIONALIZATION: In order to break past the ethical boundaries of right and wrong, most fraudsters justify their questionable conduct as something other than fraud. Here are some examples of what might be used as rationalization: (1) I was only borrowing the money, I intended to pay it back; (2) I work hard and they don’t pay me enough here, so this is just what I deserve; (3) It’s no big deal, everybody does it; and (4) I have no choice, it either I do this or I lose my house, etc.

QUESTION: While the above data is general, the question is what motivated Ms. Long to take the actions she took. She is innocent until proven guilty, however, in my experience, the US Attorney’s office does not indict someone unless they feel they will secure a conviction. What was Ms. Long’s need? What loophole in bank procedures did she take advantage of in order to access that sum of money? What was Ms. Long’s rationalization?

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME…might I suggest however, that we focus on the issue and allow Ms. Long and her family the opportunity to heal. No personal attacks will be approved.


Virginia Banker – Rebecca Dawn Long – Charged with Embezzlement. Hard Economic Times Means More Fraud on the Way!

November 1, 2008

I suppose it will become a sign of the times – the economic times that is, but fraud will rise over the course of the next several years as we begin to see the “perfect storm” unleash its fury.  As the need to survive increases – or at least maintain as some see it – the inclination to find means to “have” will tempt otherwise honest people to make choices that will have far reaching consequences.  Fraud is being uncovered at increasing rates and, in my opinion, will only get worse.  Ethical choices are thrown out of the window when faced with severe need.

Facing a federal indictment, a southwest Virginia woman – 35-year-old Rebecca Dawn Long of Jonesville – has been indicted on federal charges that she embezzled nearly $488,000 from the bank where she worked.

HOW:  In Ms. Long’s case, she used “opportunity” as her method to create the fraud.  She is accused of falsifying loan documents.  According to the indictment she established a line of credit under a fictitious name.

According to the indictment, between December 2004 and September 2008 Long devised and executed a scheme to obtain money from The Peoples Bank of Ewing by establishing a line of credit under a fictitious name. After establishing the false credit line, Long allegedly withdrew $487,685.23.

The indictment also charges that Long created and faxed a fraudulent loan document to an office of The Peoples Bank for the purposes of disguising the fact that she had embezzled over $487,000 from that financial institution.

POINT OF INTEREST:  In many of the current mortgage fraud cases, falsification of loan documents is common and, has in the past, almost been encouraged in order to meet the qualification standards from the loan underwriters.  Underwriting standards have tightened significantly, but that does not stop the practice.

U.S. Attorney Julia Dudley said Tuesday that a grand jury in Abingdon indicted  on charges that included bank fraud, bank embezzlement, money laundering and making a false statement on a loan document. She faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison and a $3 million fine if convicted.

QUESTION:  Does anyone know Ms. Long and what might have motivated her to make such a foolish choice?  If so, please feel free to comment.

Every choice has a consequence.  In this case, Ms. Long is at the beginning of the phase of facing her consequences.  I know what she is facing.  I have faced it myself.  While I am not proud of my past, I have to be honest as an ethics speaker and writer – I, too, spent time in federal prison for embezzlement.  The experience was less than pleasant and the consquences linger to this day…and I have been out for 12 years.

While Ms. Long has made a grave mistake, as a wise man once said to me – You are not a mistake.  Neither is Ms. Long.  To all who seek justice…Ms. Long will stare justice in the face and likely face time of reflection in federal prison.  However, to her family and friends, let me say, my thoughts are with you and I know that with the right approach there is recovery after an event like this.


Mortgage Fraud – John Andreas Tsiaoushis Pleads Guilty!

October 12, 2008

Easy money – quick loans – anyone can qualify. It seemed that those words were the mantra for early in this decade. Now, it appears they are coming back to haunt us. With the sub-prime crisis and the economy in the tank, it is no surprise that law enforcement is uncovering, at a rapid rate, mortgage fraud.

John Andreas Tsiaoushis, 40, of Alexandria, Virginia, pled guilty to two-counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution and giving false testimony at a hearing in the United States Bankruptcy Court.

Tsiaoushis faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, 5 years supervised release, and a fine of approximately $7,600,000 when he is sentenced on July 18, 2008. As part of the guilty plea, Tsiaoushis agreed to the entry of a Restitution Order. The government estimates the amount of restitution due to be approximately $3,841,189.48.

Tsiaoushis admitted to operating a mortgage fraud scheme between approximately December 2004 and November 2007. According to court documents, Tsiaoushis fraudulently attempted to obtain an estimated $4,353,600 and successfully obtained an estimated $3,677,000 through the scheme. Court documents also indicate that, while the mortgage fraud was ongoing, Tsiaoushis engaged in a check kite scheme through which he obtained an estimated additional $163,500 by overdrawing his accounts with several Virginia banks.

To carry out the mortgage fraud, Tsiaoushis transferred or refinanced two Virginia residential properties, one located in Vienna, Virginia, and one located in Alexandria, Virginia, on six occasions. In applying for loans, he provided the would-be lenders with false documentation, such as false loan-payoff statements purporting to be from current mortgagees, and false Certificates and Affidavits of Satisfaction purporting to be from prior mortgagees. He then arranged for the loan proceeds to be misdirected to himself by causing the title companies closing the loans to send checks for the proceeds, which were ostensibly to be used to pay off pre-existing mortgages on the properties, to false addresses. In reality, the addresses were commercial mail drop boxes that had been opened by friends, associates, and family members. Tsiaoushis diverted much of the money to businesses in which he had ownership interests.

Tsiaoushis, who had filed for bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in October 2005, also admitted to giving false testimony in a hearing before that court about selling one of the residential properties involved in the mortgage fraud scheme.

Khalil Salim Arbid, an associate and former driver for Tsiaoushis, was sentenced on April 4, 2008 by United States District Judge James C. Cacheris to 16 months in prison, 3 years supervised release, and ordered to pay $650,613.61 in restitution for his role in the scheme.

Every choice has a consequence is a comment I make in most presentations. As a white collar crime and mortgage fraud speaker, I speak from first hand experience about the truth about consequences. Reality is – no one escapes the consequences of their choices. While Tsiaoushis may have enjoyed the money for a time and avoided the consequences – they did not avoid the consequences all together. Prison is no fun and Tsiaoushis is facing several years plus substantial restitution for this conviction. Likely he will serve time and that will prove to be a dramatic change from his prior activities. You do reap what you sow.

White Collar Crime Speaker – Chuck Gallagher – signing off…


Car Repair and Identity Theft – Charles E. Perry, Jr. Pleads Guilty! Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Get Your Car Fixed…

April 16, 2008

As host of Wise Choices – The Great Advice Radio Show on CBS Radio – KRLD, I had a guest on the program talking about identity theft. Certainly, that’s a hot topic – especially when the methods of stealing and using identities has changed in the past ten years. Often, however, we don’t think of the obvious when it comes to how and where our ID’s can be stolen.

Christopher Bianez – member of the crime prevention unit of the Plano, Texas police department was my guest on the show and he outlined three things that help when thinking of identity theft: Deter, Detect and Defend.

In the case of Charles E. Perry, Jr. it would have been hard to use Christopher’s first suggestion as Perry used the trust people placed in him for the simple task of auto repair to steal their identities. Other than paying with cash (which few people do these days and I don’t blame them), when Perry’s customers paid – with their credit cards – Perry took advantage of the opportunity.

According to the US Attorney’s news release: Perry used his auto repair businesses, previously located in Norfolk, Hampton, and Virginia Beach, to conduct assorted, fraudulent criminal activities in violation of federal law. Perry regularly stole the identities and credit card numbers of customers seeking vehicle repairs. He then used this data in various ways. For example, Perry applied for credit card merchant accounts and business cash advances in customers’ names. Perry also used customers’ identities to open dealer accounts with vendors and then ordered parts and supplies for which he never paid. Perry also fraudulently charged customers’ credit card accounts for repairs that were either improperly or never performed. The known losses are estimated at more than $500,000.

According to the dailypress.com – Perry used several business names, including Dog & Pony Automotive Inc., T & S Transmissions Inc., T & C Automotive Inc., Hampton Tune LLC, Hampton Tune Inc., Hampton Tune and Lube Inc., Hampton & Tune Inc., Cornerstone Mechanical, Corner Stone Mechanical Inc., Seven Cities Automotive Inc., J & P Cycle Repair, J & P Automotive & Cycles, Python Custom Cycles, S & P Transmissions, Tidewater Automotive Center, ATL Motor Mate and JLP Enterprises, according to court records.

Perry faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000 on the wire fraud charge, and a mandatory, consecutive sentence of two years in prison on the aggravated identity theft charge.

Every choice has a consequence. As a white collar crime and business ethics speaker, I speak from first hand experience about the truth about consequences. Reality is – no one escapes the consequences of their choices. While Perry may have enjoyed the money for a time and avoided the consequences – he did not avoid the consequences all together. Prison is no fun and Perry is facing several years plus substantial restitution for his conviction. Likely he will serve time and that will prove to be a dramatic change from his prior activities. You do reap what you sow.

If anyone reading has any background on Perryfeel free to comment as I study the behaviors and backgrounds of those convicted of white collar crime. Likewise, if you were a victim…please share your experience so other may benefit.

White Collar Crime Speaker – Chuck Gallagher – signing off…


Health Care Fraud Earns Ibiteme Richard Bristol Prison Sentence – Comments by White Collar Crime Speaker Chuck Gallagher

February 11, 2008

One of the hot areas of white collar crime fraud is in the health care arena. The question that continues to amaze me is – do those who perpetrate such a fraud really think they will get by with it?

Reality is every choice has a consequence! This is something Richard Bristol, age 31, is finding out. Sentenced to 33 months in prison and restitution of $892,797.77, Bristol will face life changing experiences as a result of his fraudulent activities.

jail-cartoon.jpg

According to court documents, Bristol, operating as Bristol Nursing Services, provided respite care and personal care services to Medicaid recipients. From January 2006 until September 2007, Bristol submitted 574 false claims totaling $892,797.77 for payment to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS). Bristol used nursing aides who were not qualified and not supervised by a registered nurse (RN) as required. To further the scheme Bristol forged the signature of a registered nurse on patient records. Additionally, Bristol falsely claimed payment from the Department of Medical Assistance Services for hours in which the nursing aides did not work.

Now, I would assume that Bristol felt that somehow he wanted or needed the money. However, money ill gotten will result in a negative consequence. As a business ethics and white collar crime speaker, (www.chuckgallagher.com) I know first hand the effects of the choices we make. You do reap what you sow. Not that I’m proud of this, but having spent time in federal prison for unethical choices, I clearly understand what Bristol will be facing soon.

Perhaps, upon his release, Bristol will understand the reality of his choices and use his life following prison for some good.

Comments are welcome!