The Black and White of White Collar Crime

3.23.2010 General, News Release, School News

While high-profile white collar crimes like Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme grab headlines, thousands of smaller crimes are being committed each day in offices across America. In an effort to raise awareness of the consequences of white collar crime at all levels and the importance of ethical business behavior, Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business is hosting a panel discussion on March 26 entitled “Finding the Way Back: Impacts of White Collar Crime.”

The panel will feature Neil Weinberg, executive editor of Forbes Magazine who has reported extensively on business ethics and is the co-author of a book on the MCI WorldCom accounting scandal. Also appearing on the panel are two former executives who were convicted of white collar crimes and served time in prison for their offenses. The fourth panelist is an expert on forensic accounting investigations. The panel discussion will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and repeated again from 1:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. in the Benson University Center room 401 on the Wake Forest campus.

“When people see our panelists who were convicted of white collar crimes and hear their stories, they will be able to identify with them,” said the panel moderator Kelly Pope, visiting professor of accountancy at Wake Forest University. “They’re not CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. They’re friends of your parents, they’re your co-workers, they’re your neighbors, they’re ordinary people who made mistakes.”

One of the panelists, Diann Cattani, embezzled $500,000 while working for a consulting firm, and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. In her current position, she reinforces the need to implement internal controls in companies of all sizes to prevent such crimes from taking place. She also is the co-author of the book “Taking the Harder Right.”

Also on the panel is Justin Paperny, author of the book, “Lessons from Prison.” In his former career as a securities broker for Bear Stearns/UBS, Paperny was involved in a Ponzi scheme and served just over one year in prison after pleading guilty to violating securities laws. The fourth panelist is Tom Golden, a retired forensic accounting partner and author of “A Guide to Forensic Accounting Investigation.”

Pope pointed out the importance of focusing on ethics in the nation’s business schools. “These are the kinds of topics that we should be discussing on college campuses today,” she said. “We see a lot of ethical lapses in the market place, and discussing some of the issues that other people have faced in their corporate life can shape students’ future decisions when they are in the business world.”

While some would argue that ethics cannot be taught, it is important to give students examples of what to do and what not to do, Pope said.

“Sometimes we only hear about the high-level crimes and we don’t see anything about the lower-level white collar crimes, but there are a lot of those,” she said. “In addition, there are thing that might be legal, but they’re not necessarily ethical. So we want to raise important points to leave on the hearts of minds of students.”