Fraudsters in Demand as Speakers Amid White-Collar Crackdown

Fraudsters, bribers, money launderers, and other criminals are reinventing themselves as keynote speakers and corporate consultants as lawyers and accountants seek to understand white-collar misbehavior through the eyes of perpetrators.

Scott London, the former KPMG partner convicted of insider-trading, was the main attraction in a seminar on July 25, just weeks before he was due to head to prison. Certified public accountants, compliance officers, and others could get continuing professional education credit for attending.

Mr. London is only the most recent felon on the lecture circuit. Booking revenue for former jailbirds is growing at about 10%-15% per year, said Gary D. Zeune, founder of The Pros and The Cons, a training company that can provide either cops or criminals, whatever the client prefers, for fees ranging from $6,000 to $12,000. Most of his clients, he said, are CPAs and attorneys.

Mr. Zeune told Risk & Compliance Journal that his company has about 200 engagements booked this year, about half of which will involve ex-convicts because, “If you want to catch a crook, you have to think like a crook, and most people don’t.”

Audience interest in these speakers is partly headline-driven, according to those involved in booking such speakers, so Mr. London’s appeal probably stems both from the current clampdown on insider trading and from his personal notoriety as protagonist in a well-publicized case. But the interest is also fueled by a general fascination for wrong-doers, their crimes and methods. When the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners booked former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow to speak last year, a decade after the accounting fraud over which he presided, “The room was packed,” a spokesman for the ACFE said.

Yet former-criminals-turned-consultants are wary of a wave of imitators. Frank Abagnale, the erstwhile conman whose youthful exploits in fraud inspired Catch Me if You Can, first a best-selling book, then a film starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, told Risk & Compliance Journal in an interview that convicts inspired by his example often write to him seeking advice. “There’s a lot of people who, because of my success, think they can rip off somebody, come out of prison, and say ‘I’m an expert on that,’” he averred, but warned, “I’m not sure I trust those people.”

Some hosts are wary of being seen to reward crime. James D. Ratley, chief executive officer and president of the ACFE, said that his organization often invites ex-convicts to speak, but subject to strict ground rules. “We already know they are not trustworthy, because they were caught perpetrating a fraud,” he said. So while the ACFE will pay expenses and make a contribution to the speaker’s restitution fund, Mr. Ratley’s policy is not to pay them directly. He also emphasized that such speakers are welcome to describe their own experience with fraud, but forbidden to offer advice on investigative procedures. “The fraudster knows about his fraud. He has had no training, no experience other than what he did, and he got caught,” Mr. Ratley explained.

Despite the strict policy against paying felons, Humberto J. Aguilar, a former attorney who served 77 months in federal prison for money laundering , told Risk & Compliance Journal the exposure made it worth his while to speak at the ACFE annual conference in June. “I spent almost an hour speaking to people and handing out my card and know that as a result I’m going to get some work,” he said. He said he has spoken at more than 100 conferences, most of which, he said, pay about “$5,000 to $6,000”, and also says he does some consulting on spotting and stopping money laundering, and some expert-witnessing.

Kenneth Rijock, who was released from prison in 1992 after serving 19 months for money-laundering, has since built a career as a writer, speaker and consultant. “As a financial crime consultant, my job is to educate people on how it’s done so they can know if somebody wants to pull it on them,” he said in an interview. He contrasted the talent and imagination of money launderers with “one dimensional” law enforcement.

But Mr. Abagnale said he prefers people to focus on his more-than three decades of work as a fraud prevention trainer and pro bono consultant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation after prison than his colorful past before it. About ex-cons who seek to follow in his footsteps, he said, “They talk about the crimes they committed, they kind of boast about it. They don’t seem sincere.”

Yet Philippe Montingny, president of the ETHIC Intelligence, a body that offers third-party assurance of corporate compliance programs, thought the experience of Richard Bistrong, who recently completed a prison sentence for bribery, could be useful to his audience. “He had a senior position previously. He has capacity and ability to speak with senior managers of companies and to indicate what should be taken into account by senior management,” he said.

Having left the cellblock behind in December, Mr. Bistrong is now on supervised release, blogs about compliance and speaks about the factors that led him to engage in bribery while he was vice president for international sales at Armor Holdings. Mr. Bistrong also spoke at the Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium 2014. Dow Jones & Co. publishes the Wall Street Journal.

For felons considering a second career on the conference and lecture circuit, Mr. Abagnale emphasized the decades of hard work and perseverance that have built his consulting practice, noting, “I tell these people this is not easy and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Gregory J. Millman is a senior columnist with Risk & Compliance Journal  He is the author of The Vandals’ Crown: How Rebel Currency Traders Overthrew the World’s Central Banks, and several other books. He can be reached at +1 (212) 416-2352 or by email at Follow on Twitter @GregoryJMillman


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    • Yup.. Sam Antar was a paid speaker as was Barry Minkow. Minkow is back in jail and Antar continues to defraud the public.

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