So a friend of mine passed me a note about a guy he met in prison while doing volunteer work, and after taking one glance at it I was ENTHRALLED and asked if I could share it here as the takeaways are legit. He obliged, and what you’re about to read is this guy’s story of how he ended up stealing over $1 Million from his company over the years completely ruining his life.
I hope to feature more confessionals like this and turn it into a *series* here since the RAWNESS makes it all the more interesting (and helpful!), so if you or anyone you know ever wants to get something off their chest, you just tell them to hit up Jay! Haha… They can be anonymously famous for a day ;)
But first up, “Steven’s” story as told to my friend Lance… Thanks for being open to it, guys!
At one point I was a millionaire who went on frequent vacations to Europe and Mexico, I had a beautiful family, a decent job, and a terrific life. Now I spend my time sharing a two bunk prison cell.
Here’s how it happened…
I had a good job. I earned a decent salary but it wasn’t anything great. I worked in the advertising department of a large business with around 2,000 employees and did event planning, wrote brochures, and traveled around representing the company to pick up new business. I lived a good life, but watched a lot of my neighbors move to bigger houses, get newer cars, or boats. My brothers-in-law were getting bigger and better jobs and started to make well over 6-figures.
I hated family gatherings and hearing them talk about how great their job was and their latest two week vacation in Fiji or whatever other tropical place they were regularly going to. I would take my family camping in the mountains and we’d cram in to a small, hot tent. Family dinners turned in to bragging sessions to see who could one up each other on their latest contract or company they just signed.
I tried to upgrade my job a few times and just wasn’t having any luck. I thought about going back to school as well. I just felt like I was falling behind and letting my family down. My wife never said anything about it but I just felt that she wished things were better like her sisters had it and it started to put me in a bad state of mind and made me think and justify things I would have never dreamed of doing.
Suddenly my boss left our company with no warning at all and I went from someone who I really liked working with to someone that made my job and life miserable. My new boss was younger than me, cocky, arrogant, had less experience and micromanaged our whole department.
All this led me down the road to making my first mistake which was to use my company credit card for my gas and some personal purchases.
It Was So Easy and No One Ever Followed Up
I remember standing at the gas station getting ready to slide in my corporate credit card for gas. I had done it before because I had to travel to events around the area. We had a company vehicle that we used, but today I was in my own car. I can remember sliding it in the first time and immediately panicked and wondered if I would get caught. I felt like somehow the company would be instantly alerted and the police would show up any second.
I was distracted for several days just waiting for something to happen or be said to me. I turned in my receipts at the end of the month and nothing happened. So I did it again and again and again.
Then in addition to the gas I started making some side purchases. We occasionally ordered items online or picked up things at the local store. I started throwing in a small item that could be work related or possibly not. Just looking at a receipt you couldn’t tell and my boss didn’t ask. He was an a-hole but never bothered me about expenses. He just liked to boss people around.
I would also pick up gift cards and say I was using them for giveaways out at events to give to regular clients or to draw in customers if we had a booth at a convention or expo. That sounded pretty normal and again doesn’t look unusual when purchases were reviewed.
I did it for a couple of years and these items really added up. I also started trying to pass off bigger items and was able to purchase brand new TV’s, laptops, iPad’s, golf clubs, and countless gift cards. I even started selling some of the gift cards and items online for cash.
Getting In To BIG Money
Once you start down this road and get away with it, you don’t think, “I should probably stop.” You just think “What else can I do?” because I finally started to feel rich and I felt I deserved it because my company was underpaying me for my services and my boss was a dick.
So then I took a huge step and I thought about how I could get some of the advertising dollars we were spending. I hated to think how I was helping some account executive get rich off of our advertising. I wanted in on it.
We regularly spent tens of thousands a month in advertising. It takes money to make money and get customers. We would pay ad agencies to buy our advertising online, or with TV, radio, billboards, and anything else. We came up with our own scripts and commercials but used the buying power of an agency that grouped together lots of clients money to negotiate the best deal. It is a very common practice for most businesses to do this so you get a bigger bang for your buck and you also don’t have to negotiate with every advertiser individually.
I would authorize the expense each month and couldn’t believe we would cut checks regularly for $40,000 to $95,000 a month to the agency. I wanted in on that action as well so I came up with a plan.
I told my boss we should consider opening up some bids to other agencies to save some money and see if we can get a better deal and he agreed. Again, the guy wasn’t too in to the details, so I just started bringing him the best offers.
My Fake Company
I set up my own shell company and even set up a simple website to make it look all legitimate just in case someone wanted to look it up. I gave my boss my fake company along with another two legitimate companies. I made good points about each company but felt that by using a smaller agency with less clients they could give us the focus we needed instead of being one of dozens of clients.
My boss was okay with it and I remember putting in the request for payment to accounts payable after creating my first fake invoice and the check was cut and sent to my “agency.”
I remember looking at the business account that I set up at the bank and seeing that first $45,000 sitting there. I knew I couldn’t keep it all and planned on spending most of it on the advertising. I got some strange responses when I was calling around telling people I represented the company now and needed some rates, but I still got away with it over and over for years. It was the beginning of the end.
That first month I spent everything on marketing but $1,000 which was crazy because I knew agencies took a 15-25% cut. So the next month I took 15% and after that 25% and then slowly went up from there. I made more money in two months from my “agency” than I did all year from my regular salary.
I took my family on vacations all over the world. Beach house in Hawaii, why not? Travel through all of Europe, let’s do it! All-inclusives in Mexico, we emptied out the whole liquor bar in our room every few days.
Life was good. No, it was amazing. My wife and family loved our new lifestyle. I told her I was promoted at work. I was raking it in and bought a new sports car for me and a luxury SUV for my wife. Anything we wanted we now had. We remodeled the bathrooms in our house, we upgraded the kitchen to granite everywhere and added all new cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances. We ripped out the carpets and put in wood floors.
Some media companies give away trips or huge monetary gifts for large amounts of advertising with them. We got to go to NYC and go to Broadway plays. I was invited to sit in luxury suites at NFL and NBA games. I started making decisions based on what I could get instead of what was best for my company. Sales started to go down a little bit but not enough to draw major attention. In fact, when we started to dip instead of freaking out I said that we needed to raise up the advertising budget even more to try and maintain sales… and it worked!
I would have gotten away with it forever possibly, but I kept taking a bigger percentage of the advertising budget over time and that started to raise questions. Not at my work, but at the media companies who were tired of missing out on all the big money they used to be getting. It only took one damn conversation for my whole fake world to come crashing down.
The Beginning of the End
The executives of my company were at a golf outing/fundraiser event with a bunch of media companies. These weren’t the small account executives that I worked with, but their big bosses along with the big bosses from my company.
Just one comment at the golf course got me. One GOD DAMN comment by the NBC affiliate who said something like, “Hey I thought you guys liked us, where did you take your money?”
That comment completely took me down.
The executive over our division ended up talking to my boss who then was forced to talk to me. I panicked the first time my boss wanted to talk about it. He never asked or cared about it before so why was he taking interest now? He told me the story and how his boss was putting heat on him so he needed answers.
I tried to cover it up by saying that I told the agency to spend the money online and on radio instead, because TV ratings weren’t that great and people were cutting the cord, and plus with DVRs no one was watching live TV anymore anyways. I was impressed that I was able to come up with that on the spot. Once you start living a lie it almost seems real.
While I thought it seemed like a great argument in my mind, my boss came back with, “We want to meet with the agency and go over what they have been doing and see if we want to continue with them.”
How could my bosses meet with the agency when I was the agency? I thought of every possible solution to this problem. I even tried to see if I could get a guy to represent the agency and would give him a monthly cut from what I had been taking, but then I worried that the guy would have all the control over me and possibly blackmail me knowing what I was doing.
I was sick over the situation. I had been cruising along so well that I just didn’t think I would ever get caught. I delayed the meeting with the agency and my boss for weeks and then in to several months. It only raised more suspicions in to my fake company and even more on to me.
Then one day I got pulled in to a meeting. I went in to the conference room and the heads of the company were there, as well as HR and a couple of police officers.
My boss said that he decided to go visit the agency since they weren’t coming to me. The address for the agency was a townhouse and not an actual business. When they looked up the townhouse owner it showed my name (It was a rental that we owned when my wife and I first got married). Then they checked more into the agency and where the money was going and it again pointed back to me. They started looking in to every single transaction I had ever made since working at the company and pulled out all my purchase records. They had better records than I ever did.
I was then fired and arrested.
I was escorted in handcuffs through the building. It felt like every single person in the company was staring at me. They couldn’t have walked me any slower through the rows of cubicles and out the front door. Curiosity had spread through the building on why there was a police car out front and officers walking in to the building. I thought it was the worst moment of my life, but that moment actually came when I called my wife from jail.
I Lost It All
My wife didn’t believe me at first. Everything that she had been living was a lie. I was a lie.
“I’m in jail honey, I’ve been stealing from work for years.”
“Are you serious? Are you f……. serious!”
She dropped me so fast and took the kids. I don’t blame her. She was humiliated. I haven’t heard once from my wife or children while in prison and I don’t expect to.
I was so obsessed about becoming rich that I did anything to get it. I lived a fantastic life for a long time, but it was all a lie. I hated my job and my boss, but all this extra on the side money made it worth it. I finally had the life I always wanted.
If I could do it over I would just find some way to find peace in my life while making $51,000 a year. I had a house, I had a family, I had great kids, I was just obsessed over being rich.
I’m now ruined for life, no one will ever hire a felon, especially one that stole more than a million dollars from their previous company. Some days I wonder what I’ll do when I get out. Most days I just want to stay in prison forever.
Have a (probably less drastic) confession you’d like to share anonymously? Let me know! ;)
[Photo cred: Chris Miller]
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Wow – just wow. Thank you, anonymous person, for sharing your story. It’s a good lesson to remind us all that we shouldn’t pursue money at all costs-that has serious consequences. I hope you’re able to find something after prison to give your life meaning. Maybe you can become a speaker on ethics to business school students. A real life story about the consequences of decisions can have more impact than discussing theoretical situations.
I think the progressive evolution of the situation is what made this story so frightening to me. Who hasn’t abused the benefits of their company once in a while? Where do you draw the line? On a business trip, is it ok to check in to a very expensive hotel, when there’s a much cheaper one with availability in the same street? Some of my colleagues don’t see a problem with that, but I do.
And that’s what this story is about, the slow escalation of ripping his own company off. The worst is that he probably had a good business idea here and could have come clear from the start. Basically with the idea to cut the middle man and start his own section from within the company, in exchange for a promotion of course.
Yup… it’s all a slow gradual process which makes it even scarier! As we all can go down those paths, though hopefully much less crime-related ;) (like with spending our own money, drinking too much, etc etc)
What I find most interesting is not what he did, but what motivated him to do it. He was in what seemed to him a really shitty situation: a job he didn’t like, a boss that was younger than him, and plenty of people (supposedly) doing a lot better in life and finances. Because of all this, he was able to justify what he was doing.
It shows that if people do (legitimately) lead a good quality life, they won’t be motivated to do such things.
It’s one of those things where we must question our desire to punish those who have less. When I was a kid and had no money, my friends and I would always go to 7-11 and dump candy into a giant slurpee cups after drinking a half cup of curse, and then fill it to the brim and then pay. When you got no money, the temptation to steal is simply much greater.
The other thing is, when something is easy to get away with, we try to get away with things more.
Oh man that is clever, haha….
I’ve heard stories at my former employer how people used the company card to put gas in their own vehicle or to buy Christmas gifts, but, nothing to this extent. The comparison game stinks and if there isn’t any accountability, it can be real easy to compete in the bad ways mentioned here.
I’m curious how many more people would have similar ventures if they had the ability to.
I’ve been getting a lot of stories emailed to me similar to this one since posting it up. I had no idea how common this type of stealing is! But even crazier it’s as if no one ever thinks they’re going to get caught??
I had a cousin-in-law who stole by using his company gas card to put gas in other people’s cars in exchange for cash. This was during the $4-$5 a gallon days. He was arrested.
Was he really arrested though? I mean, arrested and then thrown in jail for that? Seems like a waste of tax payer money. Probation more likely no?
You’d probably be surprised by what they will pursue or how inefficient our criminal justice system is.
Holy crap! I can’t even imagine. I work for big corporate America and I just can’t even fathom doing something like this. Heck – I agonize over expense reports trying to account for a few cents to make sure all is right…Wow! Thanks for sharing!
Haha I know right? I’m way too straight with this stuff too – no way in hell I want to come close to seeing a jail cell. No amount of $$ is worth losing freedom for.
Gees, what a horror story! Life can be a slippery slope, once you go down one path in life it can be hard to back out of it. I was told early on by someone I trust at my company not to do anything funny on my expense reports, because when the company wants you gone that is where they go to easily find “cause” for firing. Kind of a jaded view, but advice I follow nonetheless.
Beautifully cynical advice! Sounds wise.
My boss I started out said something similar but less nuanced – never cheat on your time card, it’s the stupidest way of getting canned there is.
Then I lived on the periphery of the military world, and I learned that misuse of corporate cards by cocky macho under-30s was a runner-up or leader in stupid ways of being fired. I live in fear of my corporate card.
A guy I know was recently fired for falsifying his timesheet. He of course says he did no such thing and is making noises about suing the company for illegal termination but that’s just noise: He lives in a right-to-work state!
So he’s in his early 40s, has some health issues and child support to pay and thus far has been unable to find another job. If he’d just been honest in the first place he wouldn’t be in this pickle. I have to say I’m not surprised, though, since “how little can I get away with doing?” has been his approach to life. I hope this will be a wake-up call but I’m betting it won’t be.
Whoops. I meant that he lives in an “at-will employment” state. In other words, the boss could have fired him for any reason at all (although I think falsifying a timesheet is a fine reason all by itself).
Interesting about it being the first place companies go – I wouldn’t have thought of that!
Wow! That was a crazy story. Thanks for sharing. It was interesting to see the phases that he progressed through. It reminded me of a recent post that I made where I told a story about getting lost at the end of a 50 mile hike (I’ve linked to it with my name). At the beginning it would have been easy to turn around and get back on track but the farther down the road we go the farther off track we get and the harder it becomes to rectify the mistake until we are completely lost and can’t turn back even if we wanted to.
This story is helpful because it’s so easy to sit back and say “Well I would never do something like that.” But we have no idea what our future holds and how lost we might find ourselves someday. This guy would have made that same comment a few years ago – then he ended up getting started down the slippery path until this happened.
And honestly, if I needed an advertising agent sometime I’d hire this guy in a heartbeat after he gets out of jail. You can tell by reading this that he feels true remorse for his deeds and I think he’d be about the last person to try stealing from another company. And he is going to be SO detail oriented now and know what he’s looking for that he’ll be the best person to catch others that might be trying to rip you off.
Really? I was struck by how angry he was at getting caught, yelling about that one GOD DAMN conversation that got him caught. It seems like he’s still very much on the fence – I lost everything and it was my fault, but if only this hasn’t happened it all could have been ok.
I agree. I think he feels some amount of remorse, but I didn’t believe that his remorse was over his action but rather getting caught. He really believed his boss deserved to have this happen and that the NBC affiliate was the one flaw in his process. There’s some unprocessed greed there still.
Great article, Jay, that was eye opening. Yikes. It really can be a slippery slope, with the driver being envy and trying to keep up with everyone.
Wow. That is a fascinating story. I worked in retail in high school and one of the managers had apparently been taking more and more from the registers and finding ways to fudge the records. The police came into the store and arrested him while I was working. I can’t imagine he got anywhere near the numbers that this guy got, though.
Thanks for sharing this! I’m looking forward to more like it!
Amazing. The extents people go through to keep up with the joneses is insane!! I feel bad for this guy, knowing your family is out there and feeling you have no future because of your greedy actions. Of course it wasn’t worth it…but at no point did he realize the ultimate outcome?
I used to steal a lot when I was a kid (thankfully I stopped before I hit felony and embezzlement levels!). I understand the initial nerves, then rush, then complacency. You get to a point where it’s so easy it feels normal…until you get caught. The embarrassment and shame that goes with getting caught at your own game is horrible. To be sitting in prison because of it – unimaginable. I hope he gets the chance to turn things around. Being a speaker, as Liz said, sounds like an awesome way to redeem himself. :)
Thanks for your honesty here! I actually stole twice as a kid too and very clearly remember it and how I couldn’t shake it from my conscious for yearrrrrrs. The first time was my own doing wanting a toy someone had, but the 2nd was after being convinced by my friend to do it “because it’s so easy – if they didn’t want anything stolen, why would they make it so easy??” I finally caved and realized shortly thereafter that I shouldn’t have even been hanging out with this kid. Man we’re stupid when we’re young!
It isn’t always the young folks, either. A member of my childhood church — a woman who’d given countless hours of her time to help others — was arrested for shoplifting. Turns out she was a serious kleptomaniac who had been doing this for decades. My grandmother, who’d volunteered with her all those years, was so shocked she could hardly speak of it.
An old friend had the same issue as the subject of this article: Given access to money through a couple of avenues (first through a community activity and then as a caregiver for someone with dementia), she started siphoning off cash for her own use. Since I know how horrific her backstory (much abuse, both psychological and sexual) was I can sort of understand why she did it. She wanted things for her kids (she didn’t earn much and her husband liked to spend what he earned) and also for herself (a chunk of the stolen cash went to gambling — the ultimate short-term, adrenaline-filled escape).
I don’t condone it, mind you. That money wasn’t hers! But I can understand how it happened. I can sort of understand why the subject of this piece did what he did, too: He thought he deserved a piece of the good life. He sure went at it the wrong way, though. Now he’ll be lucky to get ANY kind of job.
So many fraud stories follow this same exact script. Start with taking just a little bit. Then rationalize taking more, and more and more, until it becomes too big to stop.
Just goes to show how the wrong motivations in regards to money will kill your happiness. He cared about what others were able to purchase and the possessions they had, and he wanted the same for himself.
Really sad story. Thanks for sharing.
Cringed while reading this story. So sad to hear a fellow Dad ruin his life like this. But “Steven” did some pretty dumb things, like registering the new agency to his town home. If he was ambitious enough to steal this way, maybe he should have just tried to actually start his own agency. I guess he took the easy road… which led to a cliff.
You know that is a question I have actually asked Steven. “Why didn’t you start your own real agency?” His response was, “too much risk and I didn’t want to have to build up a clientele.” I laughed at his response and said, “too much risk?” He then told me where I could go and a few other kind words. He said the “easy” money blinds you over time and he talked about drug dealers he’s met in prison that worked 60 hours a week with dealing and distribution just to not have a regular job because it seems easier.
Fascinating!! I kinda feel like that with blogging actually, haha.. it always takes wayyyyy more time and effort than you or anyone thinks, yet we still do it for far less money had we been putting our energy into other ventures instead :) Or maybe that’s just me, haha..
Whoa! Don’t tell that to the world. Blogging is fun and doesn’t take any time at all. :)
Lori Greiner, from Shark Tank, says that an entrepreneur is someone who will work 80 hours a week for themselves, to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else. :)
Crazy stuff. Thanks for sharing with great honesty. Sounds like a “keeping up with the Jones” to the extreme, which cost you dearly.
Really, it’s a good lesson to remind us neither one should cry for money nor brag about their position because money can’t buy happiness. its better to stay calm and earn slowly and gradually.
It’s amazing what a slippery slope it became for the writer. He slowly justified ever more theft. I’ve never personally abused the company credit card, and like others say above I’m actually extra careful. It’s just about the easiest way to fire someone.
I’m not a big fan of pursuing wealth and money for moneys sake. Whats the point? If done illegally you end up like this guy. Legally taken to the extreme you end up a slave to your job or stressed to the max. Instead I’m strongly at the category of having enough money simply to perpetuate my the things I value most.
As an accountant I’ve heard of many stories similar to this. You need three things for fraud to occur. 1) opportunity, 2) incentive pressure, and 3) rationalization. Seems like this gentleman had all three. When the opportunity presented itself like it did in this case, you can see how someone wanting to be rich so bad could rationalize the situation.
Sounds about right!
What an interesting story. But working for a sheriff’s department, I can tell you it happens more often than you think – albeit probably not to this level. This past year alone my county has arrested a solid number of people for stealing $500-10,000.
Always interesting to know what goes on in people’s heads though.
Oh man, I bet.
Whoah. I feel like I just watched a movie. How terrible! After reading to the end “The Wolf of Wall Street” flashed through my head (minus the prostitutes & drugs I guess).
I think we all want to be happy in life but some people take it a bit too far. It’s crazy how one little expense turns into another, into another, almost like gambling in Vegas. Crazy. It confirms the need to be content with what you have. Not that any of us will turn into criminals, but it certainly makes the point!
Wow. I think the most frightening thing about this is how easy it sounds like it was to get away with it for years. Hard to believe that it never occurred to him how it would inevitably turn out though. Seems like he must have had a bad case of envy-fueled tunnel vision.
Oh god, this actually made me feel kind of sad for the guy. But yeah, you can’t steal from your company, especially to this degree and for this long.
This is nuts, but at my first job out of college we had an accounting assistant. Everybody at this job freaking hated it; it was always a matter of time before people got fed up and quit. I only lasted 6 months at this place and I urged the accounting assistant to look for a new job, since she had a desirable degree and could work somewhere better.
But she stayed. For months! I couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would stay there for a few years. But then I caught a news story where she was arrested for embezzling $100,000 from the company!
I was actually work friends with her, so it was completely shocking. You really don’t know what people are capable of, even if you think you know them. It’s so easy for people to get into a “gimme gimme” mindset, especially at a crappy job.
I think the lesson here is to keep your integrity in the forefront. I work in marketing, so I know advertising can be a tough gig if you’re low on the totem pole. But there are other, much better, ways to advance yourself and to build your salary. I did it by building my skills with free online classes.
It sounds like “Steven” learned his lesson, albeit the hard way. I hope he can make a good living for himself once he’s released and he gets on track again.
Man, I guess so.. never know what’s going through people’s heads! I hope Steven gets back on track after all this too. Maybe he’ll soak up a ton of learning while in there? I feel like that’s what I would do. And work out a lot more :)
Whoa, this one definitely pulls you in. Thanks for sharing it J.
I feel like our company scrutinizes purchases over a few thousand dollars. You need approval from everyone and their brother to get 3k for continuing education.
Whoa! This was an incredibly captivating read and also quite sad. Keeping up with the Joneses can ruin the finances of just about anyone, regardless of income level. This article made me think of a quote I read recently that, “Money can help you fund a purpose, but it cannot help you find a purpose.”
I love this quote!
“Money can help you fund a purpose, but it cannot help you find a purpose.”
Damn – that’s good!
Quite a story, a good reminder that not everyone around us can be trusted. And also that we should check our own motives every so often and re-evaluate what is really important.
Wow, that’s a very powerful story. I can definitely emphasize with how he felt the Company treated him. I think it’s common in other similar stories. Overall, I’m surprised how easy it was for him to get away with it before finally getting caught.
Thank you for sharing
Thanks for sharing. It’s a crazy story yet I can see how easy it is to fall to this type of temptation. Then once the switch is flipped an addiction to “what more can I get away with?” Takes over. It reminds me of an American Greed episode where one little computer hiccup took down two sisters who were stealing from the Defense Dept for years by overcharging suppliers for screws and widgets.
I still have to check out that show – I’ve heard it’s pretty good :)
I totally saw that episode. Started as a simple accident by putting a decimal point in the wrong place. They wanted to fix it but when no one said anything they started doing it purposely.
Thanks for sharing, Jay! Good stuff.
Holy Crap! That’s nuts, but I’m not sympathetic. I only hope more scammers get caught. This is why you shouldn’t start down the slippery slope. Pay attention in those ethic class.
This guy doesn’t know his identity and has poor character. He also doesn’t know the difference between wealth and riches. He was going after riches but he had wealth the entire time: health, fabulous family, home, etc. That guy needed to be humbled!!!
I was going to say something similar. All of his values seem centered comparing himself to others. I have to wonder where this started. I bet it started in childhood. He seems to have no sense of an internally driven value system.
I agree with what another poster said…there’s still some unprocessed greed here. He has remorse, but it appears to be remorse over being caught–not for the damage his behavior did to other people.
Crazy good! It sounds like he went back to the well a few too many times. Thank you for sharing.
I have a good story from my wife’s company. Police escorts and prison time were involved too. :) One day a coworker got escorted out the door. Turns out she stole a HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS (investment banking = bigger bucks). I think she got around 7 years in a minimum security federal prison for that. Fun times.
WTF! $100M? I’d leave the country if I stole that much money.
Yeah for real! What do you even do with $100 Mil?? Haha…
Wowza. If it’s any encouragement, I have personally hired a felon who embezzled from their company. And I had a coworker who basically did the exact same thing. Only he was kind of in it with his boss and they were helping each other embezzle. We all loved him at work, and was a great employee. So life can go on. And children are the most forgiving creatures on Earth. Don’t give up on them. Best of luck!
That’s because you are an angel over there – you never cease to impress me :)
Yeah that is a deep story. I don’t understand why the wife would just leave and not even keep some kind of contact for the kids sake. I guess people deal with prison situations differently. Yeah get rich quick schemes never work, and he didn’t even save it to get rich, just spent it like he was rich with consumptions.
Meanwhile, with the same 50K salary, Jason Fieber retired in 6 years (www.mrfreeat33.com/how-i-retired-in-six-years-on-a-50000-salary/)…
How relative are things! And how the f*cking Joneses can ruin our lives! This guy was just OK, but family reunions with relatives bragging made him feel poor. How damn relative are things!
I know – Fieber is crushing it in life! Such a cool comeback story from where he used to be.
I absolutely loved reading this. You should definitely continue this confessional series – so interesting and so much to learn!
I wish more people would realize his point at the end “If I could do it over I would just find some way to find peace in my life while making $51,000 a year. I had a house, I had a family, I had great kids, I was just obsessed over about being rich.”
I’m sort of speechless after reading that. It’s amazing how bad some want to keep up with the Joneses and what they will do to be a part of that lifestyle. I think it’s good that he has the courage to share his stories with others. It proves that everything that glitters isn’t gold and will hopefully deter someone else from making the same life changing decision.
If he had stayed the course with his salary and lifestyle, he likely would have either needed counseling for his wife or she would have left him, given the comments about how she was unsatisfied with their lives too.
Interesting take… something def. needed to change though it seemed, but what a route to take! Haha…
“I’m now ruined for life.”
No, you’re not.
You may feel like you’re the only person to ever have done something like this, but you’re not.
Others have as well and some of them have been quite successful once out of prison. Find their stories, read about what they did, and take some of their actions to heart. If they turned it around, you can too.
At my last job we were very close to hiring a felon. This guy had stolen from his former company and gotten caught, then spent time in jail. While in jail he had found religion and had been counseled by a pastor during his time in prison and after he got out. he was perfect for the job we had. He told us everything and even allowed us to talk to his pastor. We would have hired him except his personality didn’t fit the company — he was willing to “run over people to get ahead” and that’s just not the way we did things.
But we had come to grips with his past and decided we’d take a risk on him. Only his personality limited him, not his past.
I say this to let you know there are companies out there who will take a chance on you if you’re upfront with them. You may need to start at a lower level and prove yourself, but you can rebuild your life and career if you stay humble and work hard.
I’d suggest using the time in prison to prepare yourself for the time when you get out and want to make a clean start.
And this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: you can NEVER let this happen again. If someone does take a chance on you and you turn around and steal from them, you’ll probably never work a meaningful job again. So make the most of the opportunity you have left. It won’t be easy, but you can do it and your life certainly isn’t over.
I wish you all the best.
Thanks for taking the time to share this, ESI – I firmly agree. It’s all about getting the mind right now.
It was remarkable to see how messed up his perspective was/is. I say the word “is,” because he still used some language that made me think he failed to fully realize his own faults. For example, he mentioned “one comment,” ended his fraud, but if the comment didn’t happen then it would have happened eventually.
Also interesting to see how wrapped up he was in buying stuff. Sounded similar to many lotto winners that end up miserable and broke a few years later.
Yeah, he says that he would change, but continually expresses extreme anger about being caught. Honestly deep down I believe he would do it again and that he has spent more time thinking about what he should have done differently and how he would get away with it than changing his life around to avoid the situation completely.
Great article! Whats funny to me is that this guy thought that the good life would be spending like crazy(and it did seem to make him happy). I guess it is to some people, but for me I don’t even fantasize about it, just not my idea of fun I suppose. His happiness appeared to be rooted more in the opinions of others rather than the actual luxuries he was buying.
…And spending the weekend with the wife in a hot tent doesn’t sound half bad to me.
Wow, what a story! I don’t have the guts, or the want, to steal a dollar off of anyone.
What’s even crazier, is that his ‘dream’ life of cars and resort-style traveling sounds incredibly boring and empty to me! I’d much rather live a life like Jane Goodall, or travel the world volunteering, instead of clearing out a mini-bar!
I love this new series though! My husband and I watch “American Greed”, and we always ask: “How much money does one person really need?” and “How can you enjoy the money knowing you not only didn’t earn it, but hurt people to get it?”
Great post and great lesson! I think this kind of stuff should be taught to kids in school.
You’re the second person to mention that show here now! I def. need to get on it..
That is a powerful and tragic story. So many of us are busy trying to convince people they shouldn’t be spending all of their own money on these luxuries — I wouldn’t think it necessary to convince them not to spend someone else’s!
The allure of the “good life” is hard for some to resist. Interesting to hear how it started off so innocently. It reads like an addiction story. “I took one hit. Just to see what it felt like.”
Haha… I actually say that all the time right now as a mid-30 something! I’ve literally never tried pot or any drug or anything outside of alcohol and an occasional cigar. Even though my friends never believe me. But while I love the streak I’m on, I actually really just want to see what it’s like *once* and then never again. But I’m deathly afraid of loving it as I did drinking and cigars so I don’t dare touch it. Better to not know the difference I guess.
Dang – crazy confession. Not to the same scale, but I know of a person who is currently in jail for using a company card for personal charges. The total wasn’t in the millions but was in the hundreds of thousands over a few years.
Maybe I’m being the ultimate pessimist, but with fake news what it is today, this story seems TOTALLY made up. Seriously, it reads like a cheap movie script! I really question the validity of J Money on this one. “So a friend of mine passed me a note about a guy he met in prison while doing volunteer work”. Really? Sorry man, I’m just not buying it. Hope you can prove me wrong with more objective facts. Good read, I just think it’s completely fabricated BS.
Hah – coming from the guy who just left the exact same comment under two different names and emails ;)
But sure, no one has to believe the story if they don’t want to. It’s a free world as they say. Maybe parts of the story are exaggerated, I don’t know – I didn’t go to the prison and verify with Steven (ps: Steven isn’t his real name – *gasp*) – but I trust my boy Lance and that’s good enough for me. I’ve been doing just fine blogging under full financial transparency over the past 9 years, so I have no reason to start making stuff up now.
J and I go back quite a few years so this isn’t our first interaction together. My wife and I have been volunteers at the state prison for a while now. We were asked to volunteer there and initially were hesitant but then one of my neighbors told us that he spent 16 years in prison which shocked us, but after he told us about the multiple programs they have there and how it helped him change his life around we had to try it out. We’ve been able to work as mentors to help with the transition back to regular life with housing, education, jobs, etc. They also have a music program to teach beginning piano and guitar lessons, but our favorite by far is going in to the women’s facility once a month on Sunday night and we have children’s books where we record incarcerated women reading to their children or grandchildren and then send the recordings to their kids so they can hear their voices. I’m glad to be involved, it’s totally changed my perspective on life and helping people.
Lance, can you share how long your friend will be in jail for?
If your friend was making the corporation money and providing positive returns, why are they being so harsh on your friend?
There are a couple of factors for his sentence such as the amount stolen and being a first time offender; he also agreed to a guilty plea in exchange to have some of the charges dropped and agreed to pay back $450,000 in restitution. Since the amount was over $1 million that increased the sentence, but being a first time white collar criminal lowered the potential (compared to a repeat offender). He is serving two consecutive sentences, the first is one to 15 years and the second is up to five years. So minimum of six years with no possibility of probation or community service.
That should say the second is a minimum of five years.
The corporation is being harsh because he kept the money. You can crush it all you want, but if you keep the money and that wasn’t part of the deal, it is theft and 12 counts of fraud.
Yikes. 6 years sounds like a lot. Maybe only half that for good behavior?
Does he have the $450,000 to pay back? After taxes, $1,000,000 is only about $600,000 or so..
Wonderful post. With all the readings on financial blogs it’s good to have stories from real people like this one and the one about the 80 year old guy. Thank you.
We’ll have to keep doing more of them then :)
Wow isn’t it sad what money or the lack of money will make you do? Isn’t it amazing that people are measured by what they have!
I find this a sad story all the way around for the entire family! The father made a decision and it will cost all of them for rest of their lives.
Its crazy how common this sort of thing is. When I first started my job, my manager was let go for using the company credit card for expenses be shouldnt have. Othhers have been fired for filing false health claims (I work for a supplemental insurance company). I cant do jail for money. I just cant.
Interesting. Corporate credit card abuse happens ALL THE TIME in finance. Lots of fudging going on.
Wow, I’m sick to my stomach after reading that! It’s interesting how many of these stories start with something small (“I’ll just sneak a little bit”), then build and build until there’s no way someone could keep getting away with it forever. I can’t understand making the judgments the author did, but there’s still something relatable about that slippery slope. Maybe it’s bringing back bad memories of getting caught in a lie when I was a kid! However dishonest he was and however miserable his current situation, I hope he’s able to find some meaning and rebuild a life someday.
Great story! I’ve always wondered how some people do it. Movies like catch me if you can and I love Philip Morris give a bit of insight into these corporate cons. Does anyone else have any recommendations for good movies or books like this?
Wolf of Wall Street was good :)
Sorry, just finished watching “Office Space” and had to comment again because this story reminds me so much of that movie.
I guess this guy got pushed over the edge with his “37th piece of flair”. It would’ve ended much better though if he had just built up a ‘middle finger fund’. :)
Hah! One of the best movies E-V-E-R.
It is all too easy to want things when you don’t feel you have what you need. You don’t feel appreciated, you don’t feel valued, you don’t feel good about yourself. You need to have these at some level or another. For most of us, this comes from external sources, not our own internal sources. So much of it comes from childhood, even if that childhood was not abusive; there was just something missing. Maybe just a simple “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” could have prevented this – from his parents, from his wife. Feeling trapped is terrible, too, and not having a way to escape makes it all that much harder and easier to fall down and keep sliding.
I so appreciate this man’s honesty, and wish him the best when he leaves prison. Doubtless he has learned his lesson . . . and prison may actually be a better place than down and out in the streets.
First reaction – the family members who seemed to be achieving so much more than the guy and made him feel inferior with their great jobs and 2 week Fiji vacations – I immediately wondered how much of that is embellished to make them seem more successful. Living that lifestyle is not the same being able to afford the lifestyle.
Second reaction – the wife who believed the guy ‘got a promotion’ that allowed such an upgrade in their lifestyle. Europe, Hawaii, sports cars, kitchen remodels … that is one huge bleeping promotion. She didn’t commit the crime but I wonder if she had an inkling and looked the other way. I don’t feel that badly for her.
A commenter further up reminded the guy that his life is NOT over. He needs to spending his time in prison figuring out his next move when he is out and I completely agree. I think PF blogger may be in his future. He’d have a great story to tell.
Yeah, it would be interesting to hear what all those relatives thought too as he progressively made (and spent) more over the years! Like if it made THEM try to up their game too to then catch up to him? (Or worse – if they were stealing as well!)
I knew Jeremy Blackburn, of Canopy Financial. He embezzled like $90M from investors. He eventually got 15 years in prison, but killed himself prior to going in.
I was thinking like $90M divided by 15 years, that’s pretty good money. But I think they take it all away. I would have a large show box buried somewhere.
Here was my post on the similar topic that you highlighted a while ago.
Oh wowww…. All of that just freaks me the hell out.
What a story! Thanks for sharing.
I think it’s pretty brilliant you came up with the idea to get your company to pay your advertising company! I mean, if you were producing great results for the firm, that’s very important right? Yes, it’s morally wrong to mislead your company, BUT, you were delivering!
Let’s say you were just crushing it and providing better returns for your company than when they found out. You were helping make your company tens of millions of dollars. Would they still send you to jail? Or would they forgive you and ask you to keep on doing what you’ve been doing?
I’m sorry about your current situation, but surely you can’t be in jail for too long? You’ll have more opportunities than you realize when you get out. Not to worry!
That’s the part of the story I find fascinating. Dude wanted a piece of the pie, so he created a fake ad agency. Fake ad agency ends up being successful and he get’s busted. Why not create a legit ad agency instead? Sounds like he had the connections, competency, and drive to make it happen.
Yeah – if it had actually DONE WELL it would have been interesting to see how it unfolded! Though I’m pretty confident he would have got caught anyways (unless he did create one legitimately). If you’re over delivering like that the higher ups would still want to meet you and thank you, so he still had the problem of pushing that off :)
All he had to do was put his parents or his wife or his best friend in charge!
Wow!!! I am so sorry that this guy decided to do this…which eventually got him caught and had his life ruined!!! Of course the wife couldn’t give a hot damn second a mbput her husband..poor husband. I bet you, if he was never caught, she’d still be with him! Fellas, go for a RIDE-WITH-YOU-NO-MATTER-WHAT kind of chick!
What a nice story, J Money. I had thought that only in the movie could you watch such story, and it actually happens in real life. It’s interesting to know whether the man would go back to his family and what life awaits him after prison. I hope one day, you could do a follow up on this story.
We’ll have to see if Lance keeps volunteering there over the years to find out :)
Wow!!!! Please keep sharing and adding these types of stories to your already great lineup! As a former corporate auditor (including fraud), this story is consistent with what I have seen… it always starts with someone 1. Unhappy with their life 2. Because of envy/comparison. And when they get awa with it on a smaller scale it escalates until they are caught. So sad but so true. Get happy with your life and stop comparing!
What a powerful story—yet despite going into so much detail, not once does the author use the word “greed.” Kind of a strange omission, don’t you think?
I think “obsessed with money” counts? :)
I see little difference between filling your gas tank with the company card and “working from home” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge?).
Most will laugh off the WFH example because ‘everyone has done it’ but it costs your employer FAR more money than a $50 fill up does.
Careful with those slippery slopes!
haha… same with bringing home pens and supplies too, yeah? :)
I know a lot of people who do their own stuff while “working at home” for sure (hell – I used to be one of them!), but what if you still get your work done? Plenty of people waste company time AT work, no less at home, but yeah – all of it is technically stealing, isn’t it?
Absolutely true. I just got hired and have done absolutely nothing for 3 weeks. Its a huge company (bank of america) and my manager (whoever he is) is always promising to get back with me. So I just sit at my desk all day waiting. Could be doing the same thing at home.
When I was a kid working in a pastry shop a co worker of mine discovered that 2 of the 4 surveillance cameras were not really connected. In essence there was no live surveillance feed when you were standing in 2 spots around the store. He used that information to skim a little extra money here and there. When the manager caught on to what he was doing he didn’t fire the kid he asked to be a part of it. True story.
Dayuuum F’d up.
It must have taken a lot of courage to share this story. What I have understood is that you are a man who has made a huge mistake, but you are a courageous human being. Because it takes courage to accept your faults in this way and educate many more crooked minds not to get into anything like this. Using corporate credit cards is a bad idea, and those who have even thought about it must stop now.
‘If I could do it over I would just find some way to find peace in my life while making $51,000 a year.” A great take-away from an incredible story! Thank you for sharing it, Jay, Lance, and especially, the anonymous main character. I can just imagine those family get-togethers where siblings were one-upping each other with stories of their trips and latest purchases. Everything about your experience is easy to relate to. I think most of us have faced a slippery slope of one kind or another – but you were allowed to plummet in a way that few are. And most of us have lived with regret – I’m just sorry that yours is so extreme. Your story isn’t over yet, Mr. Anonymous. God can bring about victory in the most unlikely of scenarios. My prayer is that yours will be one such story – of surprising victory through amazing grace.
My job is doing re-entry work with folks who have criminal records and are seeking employment. As exemplified by this confession, there’s always much more to the story than what’s on somebody’s RAP sheet.
To Steven’s end comments about having ruined his life and no one wanting to hire him, I say there is help if he wants it. It will likely not lead to the jobs that he is accustomed to, but there’s other stuff out there if he’s willing to try it. There are federally funded training programs if he wants to learn manufacturing skills, truck driving, or other trades, and they can lead to a pretty decent future (truck drivers do pretty well if they stick with it!) if he’s willing to be patient and work his way up.
As with anything else though, it’s all about the choices that he makes going forward and taking responsibility for his actions. Prison is a good opportunity to do some thinking about the life that he wants when he gets out. Once he’s out, it’ll undoubtedly be a rough road, but it’s up to him to move forward or backwards. Progress is really, really slow at first, and that’s incredibly hard for a lot of people who want to quickly get back to the life they had.
If he wants help, he should look into re-entry programs in his area. Hopefully his prison has a social worker or somebody who knows about resources as well. There also may be legal relief options to show good conduct, rehabilitation, etc once he’s been out of prison for a few years which can be helpful for employment.
Best of luck to Steven, and kudos to Lance for his volunteer work.
Yes – all good things to think about!! Thanks R!
This story is really inspiring to me, as odd as it may sound. He just did a tiny thing at first, put gas in his own car, and then slowly escalated, doing bigger and bigger things over time. Of course, it’s bad and illegal and all that, but it just goes to show that putting in a little bit of effort at first will make you more comfortable with doing larger actions over time.
This power can work for good and evil. Evil in this case but it could be good if you’re struggling to go to get healthier and can’t imagine ever hitting that goal. Just know if you put a little bit of effort in over time like Stephen did you will reach unfathomable ends.
Very well written article, it was quite gripping and halfway through I realized I was dying to know how it all panned out. Thanks for sharing Stephen, Lance, and J$!
So glad you enjoyed it!! And yes to using this gradual route to GOOD stuff too!
Damn. Just damn. I am so careful with my small LLC spending and tracking and keeping it separate from my personal spending. Even my accountant thinks I could take more write-offs, but the ones he suggested just don’t feel right.
Just a non related comment. It seems like 90% of people who comment here are personal finance bloggers. Do you all know each other?
WE all don’t know each other, but I think bloggers are just more used to/comfortable sharing comments than others :) Plus you’ll notice people drop the links to their blogs to help promote their own (which is also no coincidence).
I love all commenting though because it gets the discussions going! And typically bloggers have a lot of good opinions on this stuff since we live and breathe it every day :)
Crazy. Definitely some poor choices made there. The thing that shocked me most is how his wife dropped him like a hot potato the moment everything went down. Did she bother trying to make it work or understand why he made the decisions? It’s like “Oh we’re married with kids but you stole money that I also enjoyed? PEACE!” Dafuq? Stories like this make me cynical about marriage – I hope this is just an exception not the rule.
The takeaway point for me though is that comparing ourselves to others is the best way to rob us of our own happiness in life. The moment you start to compare is the moment your own life falls apart. Never compare. Strive for more but be happy with what you have.
Yeah, something was off there too I thought. Would be interesting if we could get the wife’s story now throughout the whole process! :)
It shouldn’t make you cynical about marriage. It’s a case of “like attracts like”. The husband had a “keep up with eh Joneses” mentality always comparing himself to others–and he attracted a wife who probably had the same mentality. As other posters said, she probably suspected something was amiss but looked the other way. In general, low character attracts low character. Strong character attracts strong character.
What a fantastic story – thanks for sharing!
I sat in on a court case a few years back that was sort of similar. If I can remember the details, it would make for another good installment in your series.
In that case, a young lady had started a job with a startup company that didn’t keep good financial records. She was out of her league (she was essentially the CFO even though she didn’t have much financial experience) and started going on expensive trips with her friends and family as a coping mechanism. She got caught in much the same way as the ill-fated protagonist in your story. As I sat in on the sentencing hearing, it was fascinating to watch, in real time, as several years of lies came crashing down on an intelligent young woman.
I’d imagine so!
Wow, that’s all I can say. It’s scary how it starts so small and then the next thing you know, you’re over your head and there’s no going back. Very sad.
F’in awesome article.
Glad you liked :)
WOWZA what a story. Beyond the stealing part – It’s crazy how easily his recommendation to his boss to use his shell agency resulted in serious money. Referrals and connections are the name of the game I guess. I’m sure this happens all the time but with people recommending friend’s companies and getting kickbacks.
An intense story. I really appreciate this type of real-life stories more.
It teaches a valuable lesson at some peoples’ expense.
Keep em’ coming.
I shall queue up more then!
Wow this was intense. I really liked the read.
Now none of this would’ve happened if he only knew about compounding! He could have become a millionaire off his 51k salary. :)
Haha only if he changed his “keeping up with the others” strategy! :)
I felt sick to MY stomach anticipating his downfall!
He’s not sure what he should do after prison…I think he should write a book and go speak all over the world about his fascinating, heartbreaking, tortuous story.
Not to get political, but how many other fascinating life stories are locked up in prison cells? If we want convicted felons to be productive members of society, we should have them share their stories so others don’t make the same mistakes!
Thank you for sharing, J.
Hell yeah to that one, man!
Once he had set up his advertising brokerage agency he could have used his contacts and done it the legitimate way and probably transitioned out of his job into making a lot more money as a broker.
I get this mentality a little bit but damn did his life take a turn for the worse.
I do get a little jealous too when I hear about some amazing paying jobs some friends get, or people who made a pile on bitcoins. It makes me want to even things out.
That was a force for me to chase FIRE though, not start embezzling. Jobs aren’t all equal and I was never going to conquer that so I should just stop having a job :P
It’s one solution :)
I prefer that solution as well :)