Help wanted – willingness to share trade secrets a must

How much do you know about FOAMGLAS? Not much?

Thought so…

If you worked at Pittsburgh Corning’s facility in Sedalia, Missouri, you probably know a lot about FOAMGLAS. Up until recently, Ji Li Huang, and Xiao Guang Qi would have loved to chat with you. In fact, if during that “chat” you agreed to share what you knew about FOAMGLAS, in return you might have ended up $100,000 richer. That’s what the US government alleges at least.

Apparently, Pittsburgh Corning recently made major advances in the formulation and manufacturing process associated with FOAMGLAS. Just so you know, FOAMGLAS is used in liquid natural gas (LNG) tanks.

Which country has the greatest demand for FOAMGLAS? China – it has 10,000 LNG plants.

I’ve discussed the theft of trade secrets numerous times on this blog. What makes this case unique is the fact that Huang and Qi allegedly placed an advertisement in a local newspaper that solicited “technical talent” with experience at the Pittsburgh Corning plant. The advertisement indicated that there was a project lead vacancy associated with the building of a foam glass factory in the Asian market. What they really wanted was information, presumably to launch a competing product. That’s speculation on my part… Coincidentally, Pittsburgh Corning just announced plans to open a facility in China.

Thankfully, the FBI stepped in using an undercover employee from the company. The plan that the undercover employee shared with Huang and Qi involved the employee breaking into the engineering department and stealing equipment related drawings. The FBI helped coordinate the exchange of the documents and the corresponding payment. Huang and Qi are now in custody awaiting court hearings.

Should the allegations noted above result in convictions, it will represent another example of a U.S. based company creating intellectual property that attracts unwanted attention from foreign competitors. From what I can tell so far, Pittsburgh Corning did everything right. How many companies are not so well prepared?

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

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Update: XM Radio Employee Sentenced to 15 Months

Photographer: Stephen McCormack

Photographer: Stephen McCormack

I have an update on a case that I previously discussed involving XM Radio. Valencia Person, an Accounts Payable coordinator just received a 15 month sentence for her role in the embezzlement.

The news article detailing her sentencing notes that Person agreed to a monetary judgment of $908,924. That doesn’t make much sense to me as the article later notes that Brenda Jones, her co-conspirator received $690,000 and Person received $125,000. May be there will be more information available when Jones is sentenced on August 16…

Now, I wonder how much the investigation cost to complete… I would hazard a guess that the total loss easily exceeds $1,000,000. Investing in prevention doesn’t seem so expensive after all, does it?

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

Bookkeeper plays “hide and seek” with company’s bank records

Source: Hyku

Bonnie Denning didn’t want the owners of Easy Picker Golf Products to see the company’s bank records, and now we know why! Over the course of less than 12 months, Denning alledegly embezzled $818,339.37 from the Lehigh Acres company using wire transfers, a debit card linked to the company’s accounts, and one check (I suspect that there will be more fraudulent checks uncovered in due time).

Here is a break down of the loss:

  • 60 Debit card transactions – $411,387.00 

Alledegly used to used to buy clothes, gas, electronic goods and home furniture.

  • 54 wire transactions – $358,885.50

Alledegly included $4,799.58 to purchase granite for Denning’s home and $29,160.00 associated with a drug rehabilitation program for a relative

  • 1 check – $5,295.76 for shutters for Denning’s home

Total loss – an eye popping $818,339!

Here are some lessons learned:

  1. Denning refused to turnover the company’s bank records to the owners. In fact, the owners had to request the statements directly from the bank! That is a GINORMOUS red flag. Never, I repeat never give your bookkeeper sole custody of your company’s bank records.
  2. The bank issued a debit card to Denning apparently without the knowledge of the owners. I’ll leave it up to the owners and the bank to decide who is at fault here; however, as I have said before, relying exclusively on your bank to prevent embezzlement is a losing proposition.
  3. Engaging a bookkeeper should never result in the the owners abandoning oversight of the financials. To the contrary, owners must stay engaged and ensure that the bookkeeper compiles the results in an accurate and efficient manner. Put simply, not paying attention can cost you dearly.

I sincerely hope that the Easy Picker Golf Product Company can survive this catastrophic loss. I can only imagine how the owners must feel.

As this case develops, I’ll keep you posted.

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

A billion dollar industry and it ain’t legal (Hint: it used to be a secret)

All is not right with economies in the Western world. The US remains in a malaise while several European economies teeter on the brink of the abyss. The UK just entered a “double dip” recession and as a major trading partner for the US, we’ll surely feel the impact here in the coming months. There are many reasons for the current economic crisis. Without doubt, risk taking on Wall Street and the reckless spending that it helped fuel and support is largely to blame for where we find ourselves today. That’s history. Done. We can’t change it, we can only learn from it.

I am far more concerned with how we move forward. How does the US economy dust itself off and lead the world to better times? If there was a “magic bullet” we would have used it by now. I guess time will tell whether the decisions being made today in both the public and private sector will hurt or help.

One thing I can tell you is that US businesses are making the recovery far more difficult than it needs to be. Don’t believe me? Would you believe Pamela Passman, the president and chief executive officer for The Center for Responsible Enterprise and Trade (CREATe.org)—a Washington-based non-profit industry group focused on responsible business practices?

“Failure to address the challenge of trade secret theft costs industry billions of dollars each year and can have devastating reputational, financial, and legal impacts for individual companies and the global economy as a whole.”

CREATe.org just released a report entitled Trade Secret Theft: Managing the Growing Threat in Supply Chains‘. The report claims that trade secret theft costs industry billions of dollars annually and serves as a critical impediment to innovation, job creation and sustainable economic growth.

What does the US economy need today? How about innovation, job creation, and sustainable economic growth! US companies are literally allowing one element of the solution to the country’s economic woes to slip through their fingers into the hands of foreign competitors – many of which reside in China. Chapter 3 of the CREATe.org report states that “The weak rule of law in many countries makes it all but impossible for multinational corporations to address trade secret theft after the fact”.

Once a trade secret is gone, it is gone for good. No second chances.

Many companies sound concerned, but what are the really doing to combat the threat? Passman states the following,

“Over the past several months, we have engaged with representatives from more than a hundred multinational corporations and have been struck by the deep and pervasive concern over trade secret theft. We heard universal agreement about the need for broader awareness of the challenge and better practices and systems to help address the issue internally and externally with suppliers and business partners,”

Sorry folks, talk is cheap in this situation. In many cases, the companies that “lose” trade secrets have only themselves to blame. This is not a new problem! There is plenty of evidence available from law enforcement and non-profit agencies such as CREATe to show that trade secret theft happens on a regular basis. Goodness knows how many instances are covered up and never hit the business press.

I sincerely hope that CREATe report triggers action. The US is an intellectual property powerhouse but we can’t keep giving the stuff away. In my next post, I’ll highlight some basic steps that companies can take to protect their trade secrets. No magic bullets, but certainly more than many companies have in place right now.

As it relates to intellectual property theft prevention, “the ball” is firmly in the court of US companies. Let’s hope no one steals it before they realize that they have it.

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

Interesting article: How CIOs Can Learn to Catch Insider Crime (with help from yours truly…)

I thought my readers might be interested in an article that CIO magazine just published on insider crime. A writer from CIO magazine interviewed me about a month or so ago and I am proud to say that I am quoted extensively throughout the article. Here is just one of my sound bites:

“I’ve yet to meet any C-level person who says, ‘I’m so proud that we have 500 people preventing fraud.’ It’s not what people want to put out there as a badge of honor. It’s a necessary evil.”

Please check out the full article. In my opinion, the writer did an excellent job discussing insider fraud from a number of angles.

I hope you enjoy the article. Please let me know what you think!

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

Payroll and inventory fraud – are you next?

Apparently, there is quite a bit of money to be made from gourmet mushrooms (no, not that kind). So much so that Gino Silva and Steven Perei, both employees with D’Artagnan, a mushroom distributor set up their own company in direction competition with the employer.

Starting in December 2007, Silva and Perei made sales on behalf of their own company, Mediterra, then stole D’Artagnan’s inventory to complete the sale. To conceal the theft, Silva enlisted the help of D’Artagnan’s inventory control specialist to manipulate purchase order records and alter inventory records. This scheme was simple, yet quite brilliant – by using their employer’s inventory for their new company, top line sales essentially equaled bottom line profit. Why pay for inventory when someone else can foot the bill? The mushroom scheme lasted just over 12 months.

The mushroom scheme was not Gino Silva’s “first rodeo”. From 2005 to 2008, Silva was vice president of operations for Philips Accessories and Computer Peripherals. While working there he conspired with others to add “ghost” employees to the company’s payroll that ended up being paid approximately $1.2 million for nonexistent services (Ghost employees may be real people or fictitious but they do not work for the company).

Silva pleaded guilty to the payroll scheme in December 2008. In June 2009, he received a 27 month sentence and a restitution order for $843,414. In April 2011, Silva pleaded guilty to the mushroom scheme, and in March 2012 received a 28 month sentence, a year of supervised release and $71,179 in restitution for the mushroom scheme.

Silva committed two very different frauds and was eventually caught and sentenced twice. Is he a criminal mastermind? Certainly not, but he still managed to defraud two companies with relative ease. Will he commit a third fraud once he is released from prison? Who knows? But, the temptation may be too great… and this time, he probably knows how not to get caught!

I can tell you that there a literally thousands of companies that he could join and commit exactly the same frauds without being caught for at least a year. Is your company next?

Read more here

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

Oh what a tangled web we weave… what happens when you can’t trust anyone?

Of all the government agencies to steal from, the National Security Agency would probably be the last one on my list. If just half of what the media says they can do is true, surely, they have the capability to uncover a fraud perpetrated by a vendor.

Yet, Bechdon which made metal and plastic parts for the NSA, successfully defraud the agency over a ten year period. The father son team of William and Donald Turley overbilled the agency for hours that their company never worked. As an aside, I am curious as to why the NSA would pay for parts produced by the hour and not on a fixed price basis, but I suppose we’ll never know the reasoning behind that decision.

The father son duo both confessed to the fraud during clearance interviews as part of the process for bidding on sensitive NSA contracts. Surprisingly, they confessions came over a year apart. William Turley confessed in March 2006, and Donald the following year in April (Why it took the NSA more than a year to complete the second interview is anyone’s guess).

Now for the twist that all good stories involving the NSA should have… Enter Christina Turley Knott, William Turley’s daughter and Donald Turley’s sister…

Christina is by far the more accomplished fraudster. She managed to embezzle $4.5 million from Bechdon without the knowledge of her father or brother! Presumably, while the father and son were busy bilking the NSA, they didn’t pay attention to the fraud happening beneath their noses. Christina will be sentenced shortly for her fraud, but initially the family declined to turn her in as they feared she would disclose the NSA overbilling scheme.

The moral of the story? Don’t expect your employees to act in an ethical manner if they see your company’s leadership defrauding others. The “tone at the top” is often thrown around as important to preventing fraud. In this case we can see what happens when owners or senior executives abandon their ethics at the front door. There is no honor among thieves, especially when there are millions up for grabs. Just ask the Turleys…

Read more here

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

$2.7 million embezzled from Arizona National Guard

While members of the Arizona National Guard were in harm’s way, James Eugene Burnes, a retired Army colonel took care of business on the home front. Unfortunately, he put his personal business above the needs of the National Guard. Between May 2003 and August 2011, Burnes embezzled $2.7 million from the Arizona National Guard Family Emergency Fund and the Arizona National Guard Emergency Relief Fund.

Apparently, Burnes had fallen on hard times. Just three years after retiring from the Army on presumably a healthy pension, he began committing fraud in his new role as a resources manager for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. From all accounts, he had a gambling habit that needed to be fed. To cover his tracks – as so many perpetrators of fraud do – he created fake financial statements and audit statements.

Here is how he stole the money:

  • Withdrew $1.9 million in cash during 675 separate visits to the bank (He visited the bank as often as 20 times a month).
  • Wrote 169 checks totaling more than $400,000
  • Purchased 32 cashiers checks for more than $332,000
  • Authorized electronic transfers of $40,000

Management oversight was apparently lacking and numerous red flags were ignored. In fact, an employee within Burnes organization uncovered the fraud and shared the information with a supervisor. The fraud continued for another five months before the supervisor confronted Burnes and initiated a review of bank records which confirmed the fraud.

I am sure that the Arizona National Guard thought it was appropriate to trust “one of their own” – a retired Army Colonel. If only life were that simple… Burnes may have been an exemplary officer while on active duty, but as I have said before, even good people make mistakes. Burnes will found out soon how much he’ll have to pay for his mistake when he is sentenced later this year.

Trust too much, and employees may view it as a sign of weakness. Call me cynical, but if my experience has taught me anything, it is that organizations routinely place far too much trust in their employees. If you ever catch yourself saying that you trust your employees and they would never steal from you, it may already be too late. Trust me; I built my career as a fraud consultant based on employers trusting that their employees will never steal. Guess what? Fraud happens.

Learn more about the case here and here.

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

Have trade secrets, will travel…

We regularly hear from the U.S. government about the theft of intellectual property by Chinese companies and their government. This is just one of several examples that I have reviewed and analyzed in the past week. I am sure that there are many more attempts that go unreported.

In February 2012, Hanjuan Jin, a former software engineer for Motorola, Inc., was found guilty of stealing more than 1,000 electronic and paper documents from Motorola. Jin was caught by U.S. Customs while attempting to catch a one way flight to China. She had worked for Motorola since 1998. Why did she decide to steal Motorola’s trade secrets? Had she stolen intellectual property prior to 2007? We’ll probably never know…

The 2007 theft was not a “spur of the moment” decision. It had been in the planning phases for approximately a year.

In February 2006, Jin took a medical leave of absence. Between November 2006 and January 2007, Jin flew to China and worked for Sun Kaisens, a Chinese telecommunications company that developed products for the Chinese military. Jin had already spent June through November 2006, in China negotiating with Sun Kaisens. While working for Sun Kaisens, Jin was provided access to classified Chinese military documents.

In February 2007, the plan to steal trade secrets from Motorola kicked in to high gear:

  • February 15, Jin returned to the US from China.
  • February 22, she bought a one way ticket back to China.
  • February 23, she notified Motorola she wished to return to work.
  • She went back to work on February 26. Once back on the company’s premise, she accessed large volumes of proprietary documents during normal work hours as well as after hours. She was also observed leaving the building with various documents and possibly a laptop.
  • February 27, she volunteered for a layoff from Motorola.
  • February 28, Jin was caught trying to leave the country with over 1,000 electronic and paper documents belonging to Motorola. She also had a number of documents marked “secret” belonging to the Chinese military.

Interestingly, Jin was found her not guilty of three counts of economic espionage for the benefit of the People’s Republic of China and its military. She faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count of stealing trade secrets.

Given Jin’s frequent trips to China, and the fact that the theft had been in the planning phases for 12 months, it is anyone’s guess regarding how much of Motorola’s intellectual property Sun Kaisens or the Chinese government were able to gain direct access to. Since Jin spent time in China prior to the theft attempting to convince Sun Kaisens to employ her, she likely shared information from memory. Also, since Jin had been employed with Motorola since 1998, it is possible that she had taken information over time in the event that a move to China was in her future.

This case underscores why it is important to protect your company’s trade secrets. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your company have trade secrets? Can you list them?
  • How are they used within the business?
  • Where are they stored?
  • What has the company put in place to control and monitor access?
  • How would the company know that an employee is about to steal trade secrets?

There are a number of additional questions involving the alignment of people, processes and technology and the protection of trade secrets, but the questions above should generate sufficient food for thought.

Protecting trade secrets requires a multipronged approach. If there are any gaps in the approach, employees or third parties intent on stealing intellectual property will find them. Don’t believe me? Sanofi-Aventis also has experience dealing with Chinese foreign nationals and the theft of trade secrets. For more on that case, click here.

Arguably, the theft of intellectual property can do more damage to a company than the theft of cash. A company can earn more money to replace the money that was stolen, but once a trade secret is no longer “secret”, the damage is done. Many companies look to the legal system to punish the entity or individual that stole their trade secrets. Certainly, the courts can help. But if your organization cannot demonstrate that it took steps to appropriately protect its trade secrets, the courts may not look too kindly on your claim.

Be proactive! Invest the time and effort to protect your company’s intellectual property. Once your intellectual property is in stolen, you may be a company in name, but in reality, you are a shadow of your former self.

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com

Who is to blame for $10.2 million embezzlement?

Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

This case involves the Pope, travel on corporate jets, the Superbowl, and a celebrity chef. In fact, it is so unusual that I had to include it in our proprietary global knowledge center (enter 8688JGT for 3 months free access). Since it is included in our database, we have already analyzed the case and provided a list of lessons learned. Before I share some of that information here, let’s learn about the fraud.

Patricia K. Smith, the former controller for Baierl Acura, pleaded guilty to taking $10.2 million from the dealership over a 7 year period. Smith moved money from the dealership’s business accounts to her personal account using over 800 Automated Clearing Housing (ACH) transfers. Smith then used the proceeds to fund the following expenses:

•    $1.8 million billed to American Express for private jet charters; travel to seven countries in Europe and four islands in the Caribbean

•    $44,500 for four club-level tickets along with full hospitality at Super Bowl XLV

•    $32,500 for a luncheon for six people prepared by Food Network star Ina Garten at her barn in East Hampton, NY

•    $5,000 for “The Vatican Package,” which included Mass in Papal Audience with VIP seating, air fare for four, VIP tour of the Vatican Museum with a private tour guide, and a private tour of the Sistine Chapel with family before it is open to the public

•    $2,500 for a Phantom of the Opera experience, including costume fitting, wig fitting, an escort onstage during the Hannibal Opera sequence, and four seats for the performance.

She also purchased the following assets which will be subject to forfeiture:

•    Four houses— three in Pennsylvania and one in Georgia

•    10 vehicles, including three Acuras, four Hondas, and a Mustang convertible (At least she remained loyal to Acura / Honda)

•    Stocks, jewelry, cash, gold coins and personal property, including flat-screen televisions, a mink coat and a baby grand piano.

I have my own thoughts on who is to blame, but I would like to hear your perspective before I weigh in. Please register your vote in the poll at the top of the article. I’ll share my thoughts in a subsequent blog post.

FBI Press release

Need a writer that understands fraud? When you hire me to write an article, blog post, newsletter or white paper you get an accomplished writer that is also an expert in fraud.

paul@mccormackwrites.com