I don’t want to jump on the banker-bashing bandwagon, but as I go through my regular morning routine of media-sniffing for money laundering stories to put on the news page of my website, I have noticed something of a trend. Perhaps trend is the wrong word, as it sounds fun and brings to mind flares and tank-tops; it’s more of a rash, perhaps, or an epidemic. In short, dodgy professionals – among them, bankers, estate agents and accountants – are taking advantage of their positions of authority and access to use their customers’ accounts as their private piggy-bank.
At the end of August, John and Linda Hirst were jailed for their roles in a £10 million Ponzi investment fraud which ran for eight years in Majorca. In the cell next door, so to speak, is their accountant Richard Pollett, who is serving 6½ years for fraud and at the age of 70, frankly, should have known better (although see my post earlier this week on aging criminals). A week later, Canadian estate agent Peter Chiu was jailed for a year for laundering a cheque for C$700,000 [about £445,000] that had been obtained fraudulently from a mentally incompetent elderly man, and receiving an $11,500 “administrative fee” for doing so. And this week two American bankers have been found indulging in fraud and money laundering. In Arkansas, Kelly Harbert obtained loans and lines of credit under false pretences, including using the names and personal information of her parents and her bank’s clients, from several banks including the one at which she worked as senior vice president – she is now serving 2½ years in prison for bank fraud, money laundering and a Social Security violation. And in North Carolina, William Wise opened a bank that he said was part of a Swiss bank based in St Vincent in the Caribbean – but it was in fact the front for a Ponzi scheme. He defrauded investors of more than US$75 million before handing himself in to “take my lumps” – apparently this is Canadian for “face the music”. He’ll be sentenced next year.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (because I can, because it’s my blog): we’re all excellent at screening and monitoring clients, but how many of us apply the same standards to employees? We give them to keys to the kingdom – access all areas – and some, regrettably, are just unable to resist the temptation.
If you have (what you perceive to be) a good enough reason and a good enough opportunity, to take you’re going to be tempted to do or go the whole hog and do it. It’s up to employers to set in place simple mechanics by which theft or fraud is not possible. Some employers are just too trusting of their employees.or too naive.
I know where you’re coming from – other readers, this lady’s husband is just coming to the end of a prison sentence for white collar crime – but isn’t there a moral dimension to this? This seems to suggest that we should keep to speed limits only when there is a camera around – only when there is something external to control our behaviour. Shouldn’t we aim to ensure that people working in trusted positions are able to resist the temptation simply because it would be wrong to give in?
Best wishes from Susan