Emily Primeaux, CFE
Assistant Editor, Fraud Magazine
He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows when you've been bad or good...
"He," or "she," of course, is the ever present fraud fighter. And in 2016, fraud fighters saw a slew of unsavory characters who clearly ignored the elf on the shelf and instead stole, bribed or colluded to illegally line their own pockets. But for every bad apple, there are unsung heroes — the whistleblowers, journalists, investigators ... the list goes on and on. These heroes go to battle in the trenches every day to root out the crooks and thieves.
In honor of the holiday season, let's ruminate on the past year and the characters that made it onto either the naughty or the nice list.
- Wells Fargo: On Sept. 9, 2016, Wells Fargo negotiated a deal to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of Comptroller of Currency, and the City and County of Los Angeles. Though Wells Fargo didn't admit to any wrongdoing, it did confirm that employees had opened more than two million checking, savings and credit card accounts without customer approval. And in a stunning turn of events, former employees then came forward to say they had called the ethics hotline to report dubious sales practices. However, according to these accounts, some whistleblowers claimed that the bank's strategy for dealing with whistleblowers was to find ways to fire them in retaliation. Though the case is ongoing, John Stumpf has stepped down as the bank's chief executive.
- Andrew Caspersen: On Nov. 4, 2016, this disgraced scion of a wealthy Wall Street family was sentenced to four years in prison for robbing his friends, family and a large hedge-fund foundation in a Ponzi-like scheme. The judge who sentenced him? None other than the ACFE's 2016 Cressey Award winner, Senior U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff. Looks like Caspersen most likely received coal in his stocking this year.
- The Panama Papers: A giant leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records from the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, detailing financial and attorney-client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities ... otherwise known as the Panama Papers. According to the papers, the leak "exposes a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, hidden by secretive offshore companies." The leaked documents outed scores of politicians, business leaders and celebrities for fraudulent business practices, including Iceland's Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. He stepped down after documents revealed that he and his wealthy wife had sheltered money offshore.
- The Panama Papers: The papers themselves were a great feat of international cooperation when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 news organizations released the Panama Papers. These are the good guys.
- Tyler Schultz: When he discovered that Theranos, a health technology and blood-testing company, was using proprietary Edison machines that frequently failed quality-control checks and produced widely varying results, Schultz (an employee of the company at the time) decided to speak up. He drafted an email to founder Elizabeth Holmes to complain that Theranos had doctored research and ignored failed quality-control checks. What makes this move even more incredible is that Schultz is the grandson of George Schultz, a Theranos board member. Since then, a major investor has sued Theranos for fraud and the company has had to stop blood tests, shut down labs and cut jobs.
- Clare Rewcastle Brown: In 2010, Rewcastle Brown founded The Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak to disseminate news that concerned the Sarawak region of Malaysia and eventually, news surrounding the emerging 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) scandal. 1MDB is currently being investigated by Swiss, Singh and U.S. authorities. And she's not backing down, despite a Malaysian court issuing a warrant for her arrest for "activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy" and the "dissemination of false reports." She'll be speaking about the scandal at the 2017 ACFE Fraud Conference Europe in London, March 19-21.
The naughty list may never be empty, but at least we have those on the nice list to turn to. And while 2016 saw some pretty egregious schemes, we can enter 2017 knowing that there are those willing to investigate and speak up. Here's to the new year!