Tag Archives: greed

White Noise

“Also after our incident, we started reading a lot. If you have not been a victim of embezzlement, it’s just white noise. But once you start paying attention, it’s clearly an epidemic.”  That quote came from a victim of a pink collar criminal who stole over $200k+ from their medical practice.  Getting to hear real stories from the victims is part of my job.  It’s the part that is the hardest but also very rewarding.  Listening to this doctor’s story is like a record with a scratch: she was my friend, we socialized together, she handled everything, she was a long time trusted employee.  I hear these stories each time I go to investigate.

I am trying to get the word out about these long time trusted employees who steal victim’s innocence and joy from their work.  This victim has been devastated by the theft.  Paying back taxes, reconstructing the books, and of course trying to rebuild trust with your employees and clients.  And it continues.  It continues because many of these women live in the victim’s community.  This victim sees their former employee at the grocery store.  She is not in jail.  She is actually working for a new medical practice. Justice is slow.  But luckily this victim is also trying to get the word out about medical embezzlement.  It can happen to you and then it won’t be “white noise.”

 

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One degree of separation

I recently was at a holiday party with a diverse group of people.  The one thing they all had in common was Pink Collar Crime.  It is the relatable crime.  Every group at the party had either been personally embezzled in their business or knew someone directly who had been embezzled.  It is like the dirty little secret in business.  Also, it is like Kevin Bacon’s 6 degrees of separation but actually in pink collar crime only one degree.

No one wants to admit they have been stolen from.  No one wants to admit they were duped daily for sometimes years by their most trusted employee.  It hurts.  From Jean Le Carre: “The capacity to love is proportionate to the capacity to be betrayed.”  I read this in articles about people who have been stolen from.  The people who stole often are like family members.  They know their target inside and out and often use that to their advantage.

When people find out what I do they start speaking quietly to me.  “I want to tell you what happened to me…” and they pour their hearts out to me.   From Betrayal (written by Jed Block on the Goodwill NCW $500k theft) “On a personal level, I felt shame, embarrassment and anger. I also experienced a profound sense of loss of innocence and a challenge to my fundamental capacity to trust. Before the embezzlement was discovered, I was an ardent fan of the employee who committed the fraud against us.”

That is the hardest part of my job.  I want to restore their trust but they need to understand trust is not an internal control.

You can trust your employees with many things but be very careful when you are trusting them with your finances.

 

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Get out of jail free card

 

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What is a get out of jail free card? Unfortunately for some, it’s the card your employee has when you catch them stealing from you. The panic from the moment you find out you have been stolen from can become even greater. This is when you confront your employee (remember you need legal and HR help for that) and they turn the whole debacle around to possibly get out of jail and threaten you with disclosure of your dirty little secrets.

What are those dirty little secrets? Do you have two sets of books? Do you write off inappropriate expenses? Do you hire and fire illegally? This is just the start of what the desperate thief will try.

What do you do when this happens? Again, (insert legal advice here from a good attorney who has worked these cases before-not your golfing buddy) you need to process your own personal situation. I never tell someone directly not to file with law enforcement. But as your “fraud coach” I will tell you to take a step back and analyze all the angles.

I had a client once who, as so many do, wanted the perp hung in the town square. The client generally needs to be talked off the ledge. You need to prepare for the process. The process is long and hard and not cheap. You need to think about the potential PR crisis. You need to be ready to take responsibility for your business and other employees.

Tone at the top of course is part of the equation. While there is NEVER a reason for stealing you need to understand the rationalization part of the fraud triangle. When you give your assistant your credit card bill or expense report that is filled with personal expenses realize what you are doing. You are possibly chipping away at their own set of values. When they see you expense a family vacation to ski while attending a work conference they see you cheating and stealing. This can start a slippery slope (pun intended) for them to start stealing.

Most people, in my opinion, do not wake up and say I am going to steal from my boss or my employer. What does happen is they go to work and get a call from a bill collector stating they are late and their car is going to be repossessed, their husband or partner leaves them with a mortgage, their kid texts them about the school ski team they can’t afford and then they start down that path.

So when they get caught they are desperate to not go to jail and break up a family. Everything they have seen taking place at work becomes fair game for them to defend themselves. You need to be prepared for this. How do you prepare for this? Tone at the top. I can’t say that enough. What your employees see in your behavior is incredibly important.

I can’t tell you how hard it is for an employer to go through this. They want to do the right thing but they also feel the need to protect themselves and their business. So what happens is that sweet, conniving little Mary gets off and then goes to the next business. Eventually she will get caught but sometimes it takes awhile.

You set the example for your employees. Be the best example you can be. Set the right tone at the top and maybe she won’t have the get out of jail free card.

If this has happened to you I would love to hear from you. Please email me at kellypaxton503@gmail.com.

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Vegan Bernie Madoff????

Sarma Melngailis appeared to have it all.  I think she did until she didn’t.  Sarma was the darling of the vegan world in NYC.  She was loved by Bill Clinton, Alec Baldwin and many other foodies for her culinary skills.  MeIngailis was the proprietor of Pure Food and Wine in Gramercy.
Sarma is currently sitting in Rikers jail with a $350k bail for an alleged $2 million embezzlement from her own restaurant.  How did this happen?  Many say it happened because of a relationship.  Remember how in Dorothy Zietz’s book she categorized various embezzlers?  Is MeIngailis a Romantic Dreamer or Victim of Pressure or Persuasion?
A Romantic Dreamer according to Zietz is one who is impelled to protect the health or welfare of a loved person.  Zietz also goes on “these women were not primarily concerned with the real needs of significant persons (for example, a need for medical care).  But instead they sought either to preserve for themselves what they considered their most important possession-a husband’s love, or to enhance a relationship with a lover or a relative…these women had also been conditioned to believe that preservation of a relationship with a beloved person justified any necessary sacrifice of personal values or positions of trust.  (Zietz 1981)
Victims of Persuasion or Pressure were women who accepted positions of trust in good faith, but subsequently violated that trust in response to some form of pressure exerted by another person…the coercive demands or fear-inspiring threats of a husband or lover provided the impetus for criminal behavior.  (Zietz 1981)
“It’s the worst nightmare you can think of,” Melngailis revealed to The Post in an exclusive jailhouse interview Saturday morning at Rikers. “If I had terminal cancer, it would be better than this, because at least [then] I did not cause it.” http://nyp.st/20sd2DV courtesy of NY Post.
Although she says she didn’t order Dominos Pizza before her arrest it seems her life started spiraling out of control when she met Anthony Strangis in 2013.  “Things were going well when I was single,” admits Melngailis, though she wouldn’t cite Strangis’ involvement in her downfall.
MeIngailis, 43, appears to be a bit of a cougar to Strangis, 35.  Strangis has previous arrests by law enforcement.  Strangis allegedly posed as a cop in 2005 and also had a couple arrests for Grand Theft.  After Strangis came on the scene, “[Melngailis] would go on more trips. [She] definitely became more elusive, less concerned with the well-being of the company,” says a line cook.
“She’s the vegan Bernie Madoff,” says Benjamin Dictor, attorney for a group of ex-Pure workers. According to the indictment, 84 of them are owed a collective $40,000.
A former director of operations at Pure Food and Wine alleges Strangis and Melngailis stole with a vengeance.  “There’d be times when I’d come in on a Monday and get a text or call from [Strangis], ‘Don’t deposit the money. You have to meet me here with the money,’ ” recalls the director. “I wouldn’t meet him at the company bank. I’d meet him at the CitiBank, where he had a personal account.”
While it’s inarguable that Melngailis got wrapped up with the wrong guy, those “friends” say her carefully cultivated public persona hid some deeper demons.
Her ex-boyfriend Kenney told Page Six in 2005 that Melngailis physically attacked him on multiple occasions.
When Melngailis asked for a vegan diet at Rikers, her request was denied. She says she makes do with peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, apples and fresh-sliced cucumber.
Good people do bad things and bad people do good things.  That is important to remember when  you are a small business owner.  MeIngailis appeared to have it all but then it changed.  Although she was the primary owner of the business the investors and employees have lost out.  It seems there were “pink flags” in her behavior.  It has been said that some women start stealing for a relationship issue.  This may be the case for MeIngailis.  I’m sure we will find out soon enough in the papers.
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Stealing from nuns for lingerie and leasing a sports car

An Orange County real estate consultant who stole $285,000 from Roman Catholic nuns and used it to buy lingerie and lease a sports car was convicted Tuesday of three counts of wire fraud.

After a three-day trial, a federal jury in Santa Ana convicted Linda Rose Gagnon, also known as Linda Gualtieri-Gagnon, 59, of defrauding the U.S. Province of the Religious of Jesus and Mary.

Asst. U.S. Atty. Robert Keenan said Gagnon told the nuns in 2008 that she was an expert in handling short-sale and foreclosure transactions and offered to help them buy a small home in San Diego they were renting for retired sisters in the religious order.

But Gagnon did not use the order’s funds to purchase the retirement home. Instead, she used it to buy lingerie, lease an Audi and pay off debts for her real estate finance company, Rose Enterprise, Inc. according to Keenan.

After only 64 days, Gagnon spent the entire sum — $285,000, he said.

“She paid off $42,000 she borrowed. There was $448 at Chadwick’s of London, an intimate apparel store in San Francisco. Then she went shopping at Nordstroms, visited the nail salon and of course a pet-sitting service…. She also leased an Audi TT sports car,” Keenan said. “She was living nicely on the nuns’ money.”

The nuns, after initially accepting Gagnon’s explanations for delays in the home purchase, realized they had been defrauded when she did not respond to their messages. The order specializes in charitable and educational work. 

At one point, Gagnon told the nuns she needed another $285,000 to buy the San Diego residence, saying the original $285,000 was tied up in a “triple escrow” on another property.

Throughout the trial, Gagnon’s lawyer portrayed her as operating a bad business and accidentally comingling the funds. Gagnon did not testify, but two Catholic priests took the witness stand to attest to her character, Keenan said. They assured the court “she is really quite honest,” he added.

At sentencing next February, Gagnon could receive up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts. Keenan said a more realistic sentence would be about four years total.

Keenan said the nuns eventually had to come up with another $255,000 to buy the home, which is about three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

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