Sometimes people think I’m harsh when I tell them to always prosecute fraud in their companies. My fraud policy is quite simple, “If you steal, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Instituting a fraud policy is one of the easiest things a company can do. But I am continually dismayed to find out how many companies don’t have one. It seems to be an issue they’d rather avoid. Until it happens to them.
When fraud occurs in a company, many CEOs are reluctant to prosecute it. The main reason I’ve found is that it can be embarrassing to admit it happened in your company. They’d rather other people didn’t find out about it. And they don’t want to get involved with lawyers and filling out paperwork. It can also be hard to prosecute someone you know. They worry about hurting the employees’ families. So they find it easier just to let the thief go and keep the entire incident quiet.
Let me remind you what one investor said about Bernie Madoff. “Bernie would never do that. He’s my friend.” That investor lost everything. As they say, with friends like that …. For more on that topic, read my blog, “Nice People Commit Fraud.”
There are several reasons you need to prosecute fraud when it occurs in your company.
One is that when people see you following through on the fraud policy, it deters others from committing fraud. And the opposite may be true if you don’t prosecute it and your employees know about it. They may figure, “Well, Susie got caught. She did get fired, but I heard she found another job right away.” So while in the short run it may be a hassle to prosecute the employee, it can pay off in the long run when you don’t have to deal with this issue again.
And another reason is that if you don’t prosecute them, odds are very high they will go and steal from someone else. Susie got another job because her new employer didn’t know she’d embezzled from the previous one.
I recently read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Thomas Conrad, “Decades after ban from industry, Alpharetta man again accused of fraud.” Seems Thomas is a repeat embezzler. He was banned from the investment industry in a disciplinary action in 1971. He apparently behaved himself for four decades. But then he struck again.
He and his son, Stuart P. Conrad, have been accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of defrauding investors of $10.7 million through a group of hedge funds they managed. While he cut off any payments to investors starting in 2008, the money was still flowing freely to him, his wife, his son, other relatives and a few of their favorite investors.
They also involved another money manager in one investment that turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.
And did he tell those investors that he had been banned from the investment industry decades ago? You can guess the answer to that one. That is also a violation of federal securities law.
In this case a fraud prevention policy wouldn’t have helped as he had been banned from his industry. But this story does illustrate that once a person commits fraud, he is much more likely to do so again.
Don’t pass along your problem to someone else by just letting a thief go. Prosecute the people who steal from you. They may strike again. Even if they wait four decades to do so.