By Dick Carozza, CFE, Editor in Chief, Fraud Magazine
As narrator of CNBC’s “American Greed,” actor Stacy Keach said that his show “has … given me an insight into the machinations of the lengths that people will go to, what they are willing to risk, in order to make easy money — more and more money.
“As the song said, ‘It’s never enough, you always need more, and the simple truth is, you need more than before.’ I’ve also learned that many of these avaricious people, who are unquestionably breaking the law, have absolutely convinced themselves, in many instances, that they are victims themselves, either by virtue of the fact that they trusted someone, whether it be an accountant, a partner, even a good friend and sometimes even a family member, who led them down the wrong garden path.”
“American Greed” examines high-profile corporate and white-collar crimes, several of which were investigated by CFEs. In the series, Keach tells the stories of fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and Ponzi schemes.
With the aid of clips from the TV show, Keach described the crimes of the unwitting next-door accomplice who buried on a golf course $250,000 given to him by former homebuilder and current prison inmate, Jeff Erpenbeck. Erpenbeck, serving a 25-year sentence, was ordered to forfeit $34 million stolen from banks and homebuyers.
Keach also reported on the illegal extravagances of Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz of Tyco fame. “Kozlowski and Swartz were accused of giving themselves more than $150 million in illegal bonuses and forgiving loans to themselves, besides manipulating the company’s stock price.”
Kozlowski used his stolen cash to buy $14.725 million in art work, $6,000 shower curtains and $15,000 for umbrella stands. Keach said that Mike West, who conducts many interviews for the show, told him that when he was interviewing Kozlowski in prison he was struck by the stark difference in living accommodations. “During the interview, Kozlowski had asked for a bottle of water, and he didn’t even have enough change for the vending machine! Oh, how the mighty have fallen!”
Keach said that one of his favorite “American Greed” shows involved both surveillance and human interaction in a casino. “The Tran Organization’s casino fraud was relatively simple: They rigged casino card dealers and supervisors to perform false shuffles during card games,” he said. “Once the dealers and supervisors had a wad of bills in their pockets, the Tran Organization sent their spotters over to the tables to be targeted, where these folks used concealed devices to relay to other conspirators the order of the played cards, and that information was entered into a computer.
Keach said that once the targeted cards’ order was in computer memory, a member of the Tran Organization would signal a bribed dealer to give the cards “the old false shuffle — this sleight-of-hand kept the computer-memorized cards in the order in which they had previously been dealt, known among cheats as a ‘slug.’ ”
Van Thu Tran, head of the organization, pleaded guilty in January 2011 and in September 2012 was sentenced to 36 months in prison and ordered to pay $5,753,416.
“The Tran Organization’s defense was that they weren’t really hurting anyone; they were just taking money from people who take money from people!”
Keach commended ACFE members for helping prevent and detect rampant fraud epidemics that are plaguing our lives. “Without you, we wouldn’t be able to catch the bad guys, and I commend you for it.
“Keep up the great work you’re doing. Who knows; if you catch enough bad guys, you just might find yourself on ‘American Greed’!”