FROM THE PRESIDENT EMERITUS
James D. Ratley, CFE
In 2003, the ACFE awarded its first Sentinel Award to its namesake, Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, “For Choosing Truth Over Self.” Robertson, known as “The Whistleblower of Hollywood,” courageously exposed and pressed for the investigation of the then- head of Columbia Pictures for check forgery.
Since then, the ACFE has presented the award to sentinels who’ve exposed fraud at corporations, hospitals, banks and government agencies.
In the most recent cover story in Fraud Magazine, author Robert Tie, CFE, says Merriam Webster’s Thesaurus offers such synonyms for “whistleblower” (for obvious reasons, we prefer “sentinel”) as “betrayer,” “rat” and “snitch.” And he writes that these aren’t just words in a book; they’re manifestations of beliefs that incite and legitimize retaliation for perceived breaches of trust.
“So, when someone in a position of authority characterizes whistleblowing as treachery, it unleashes powerful forces that coerce all but the most determined individuals into silence,” Tie writes. “Blowing the whistle truthfully is no defense when you’re marked as a traitor.”
Sentinels’ stories often don’t end well. Most of those I’ve met have lost their careers and often their health for just telling the truth. Whistleblowing isn’t for sissies. That’s why the ACFE tries to support them in any way we can.
Tie interviewed CFEs about how fraud examiners can help organizations develop secure, workable whistleblowing programs — refuges for those who just can’t stand the lies anymore.
Jonathan T. Marks, CFE, CPA, partner and leader of regulatory investigations and compliance at Marcum LLP, says companies that ignore whistleblowing legal provisions, such as those in the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act, do so at their peril. “The SEC will more likely than not come after managers who knew of bad behavior and didn’t do everything possible to investigate and end it,” Marks says. “You can’t fight fraud by hiding it or directing it away from the board and external auditors.”
Sean McAuley, CFE, senior fraud manager at Anderson, Anderson & Brown LLP, says that some managers think that constructing a whistleblower program is a finite task. “Absolutely not; it’s an ongoing responsibility,” McCauley says. “You can’t just tick the box and say, ‘Whistleblower program done!’ I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work.”
The Sentinel Award recipients have been so grateful to the ACFE for a little recognition. But all of them, I’m sure, would’ve preferred to not have been in the position to accept the award. Let’s do everything we can to help our sentinel employees in their arduous journeys.