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Frank Casey challenged Auburn College of Business students Thursday evening.
“You are in a unique position,” he told them within the confines of an auditorium classroom at Lowder Hall. “Who better to stop fraud than chartered financial analysts, certified fraud examiners, forensic accountants and people like yourselves? You’re going to see situations happen that need to be stopped.
“The best way to police it (fraud) is to create a program where the cancer is destroyed from within and you are the anti-body.”
Also called the whistleblower.
Casey knows something about fraud. Along with financial colleague Harry Markopolos, the Boston financial wizards helped collect enough evidence to help bring magnate Bernie Madoff to justice, exposing his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme between 1999 and 2008.
Casey and Dr. Jon Oberg -- who discovered in 2003 that millions in illegal payments to student loan lenders were being made and worked privately to expose the wrongdoing -- spoke Thursday at Auburn as part of the American Whistleblower Tour.
The Tour is sponsored by the Auburn School of Accountancy and the Government Accountability Project, an organization that works to protect the rights of those who dare to point out corruption in the workplace, particularly at the corporate level.
American Whistleblower Tour Director Dana Gold explained that many choose not to report fraud because fear of retaliation, and fear that “nothing will be done.” But federal legislation passed in November allows millions of federal workers the rights they need should they report government corruption.
“Congress realized that employees are the best line of defense against wrongdoing,” Gold told the crowd.
Working with Markopolos at Rampart Investment Securities in Boston in 1999, Casey discovered the manager of a wealth management business was consistently delivering net returns of 1 to 2 percent each month. That manager was Madoff.
Casey said Madoff’s numbers were “impossible.”
“I knew the man to be a fraud,” he told students. “Harry said that it was probably a Ponzi scheme. I figured out who it was and it was Bernie Madoff.”
Oberg, working as a researcher for the Department of Education, stumbled upon disturbing numbers in 2003. Even though it was believed the program was eliminated by lawmakers, Oberg discovered that lenders were still receiving 9.5 percent federal subsidies from loans. The cost: millions to the American taxpayers.
So he blew the whistle – to a deaf ear as Education Department officials demanded he keep silent.
“I was shocked at what I found,” he said. “I became alarmed and alerted my immediate boss. He said in a retaliatory nature that it is not your job and you will stop working on this. I thought, ‘this is going to be more difficult than I thought.’ I didn’t give a lot of thought what his reaction might be. This loophole was growing and could amount to billions. I thought that my report would get the problem solved.”
Whereas Oberg was told to stay quiet, Casey operated his investigations in the shadows – secretly taking on a giant.
“Bernie Madoff was responsible for 5 percent of the total daily volume of the U.S. Stock Market,” Casey said. “You don’t go after a man like this unless you have a lot of proof. He is the god of the financial markets and we were going to try to take this guy down. We were aware that this was a tremendous professional risk.
“I never once flinched in fear. It’s probably because Harry and I were ex-military officers. I took an oath to preserve the U.S. and Constitution within and outside our borders. I saw this as a major threat to the financial system. SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) reps were the watchdogs. They were asleep on the job and didn’t enforce anything. We figured that someone had to do it. For nine years, we talked to risk managers at banks and said, ‘What do you know about Bernie?’ Harry and I had to do it (investigating) for them (SEC).
“Why were we crazy enough to do this? Harry is a pit bull of an analyst. If he latches on to your ankle, he won’t let go.”
Oberg was told to keep silent, but he investigated anyway. Denied access to records at Department of Education, he sought independent sources from friends on Capitol Hill to help with information.
Then he blew the whistle.
Oberg reported his findings to Congress, which put an end to the scheme in 2004. Oberg later filed suit in 2007 as a private citizen under False Claims Act. Four of the cases have been settled by the Justice Department for more than $57 million.
“That program was riddled with abuse, and we were able to put billions ($30 billion) into grants instead,” he said. “Lenders didn’t have too many friends on the hill after the expose.”
Casey helped Markopolos with an investigation that ultimately led to testimony before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee’s capital markets panel, and a 21-page memo entitled “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund is a Fraud.”
The whistle was blown and Madoff was given a 150-year prison sentence in 2009.
“He was such a sociopath,” Casey said. “He was willing to have you hock all you owned and give the money to him.”
In closing, Oberg peered at the students in the auditorium and offered hope for the future.
“Those entrusted with auditing, entrusted government regulators, and the Education Department … Where were they?” he asked. “We have nowhere to go but up. I thought my report would solve the problem. It didn’t. But in many cases when you do report a problem, it will. Doing the right thing isn’t as hard as you think.”
Casey had advice for those wanting to tempt fate and walk the path of corruption.
“You’re not going to get away with it,” he said. “Somebody will be sharper than you, and they are going to blow the whistle.”