Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Employee theft usually IS a "complete surprise"

My Dad, the hillbilly philosopher, told me something when I was probably about 11 or 12 years old that always stuck with me, paraphrased, he said:

"Jackie, there are a lot of people in the world that aren't very good people but they are very likable. Some of the most likable people you'll ever meet may have little morals and little integrity."

I thought about that this morning when reading in the News-Leader about the "Aunt Bee of Niangua," Joyce Thornhill, who has been accused (but not convicted) of stealing money from the city of Niangua coffers.

"...it was a "complete surprise" when city leaders learned 58-year-old Thornhill might have bilked the town for more than $8,000, Niangua Mayor Roger Mepham said Monday.

"She was the nicest lady you'd ever meet.""

Similarly, when I talked to a family member who formerly worked at the Municipal Court with Rhonda Bateman, the relative grappled with a broad spectrum of emotional reactions along with several of his/her past co-workers with whom the relative stays in touch. Being family I assume it was off the record. They were personal conversations during a time when my family was spending a lot of time together due to my Mother's health issues and so, carefully, I'll mostly just mention the flavor of the discussion.

There was a similar reaction on the part of those who worked with Bateman as there was on the part of Niangua city leaders discovering "Aunt Bee" was a thief. That "complete surprise" was coupled with indignation over the feared public assumption that all the employees of the Municipal court would be suspect, a sort of "how dare she impugn our collective integrity" attitude. Then there were the remembrances of the sweet birthday cards and small gifts that co-workers were given over the years by Bateman, the nagging fear that even the Bible that one co-worker received as a gift from Bateman could have been afforded by the bilked and misappropriated funds that Bateman plundered. I wondered, how does one hold in hand the very Word of God, read and study it's righteous instruction while wondering if it was, in essence, stolen from the public trust!? My relative told me the receiver was considering returning it to it's source...even that might be questionable, who was the source of the gift? Rhonda Bateman or the taxpayer?

After the audit of the Municipal Court I looked at employee theft as an angle for the second article I wrote about it for Community Free Press - Midweek. In "Are Springfield Funds Now Protected?" (August 29-September 11, 2007 issue) I noted:

"According to the FBI, employee theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S....

"We don't anticipate that any of the government employees, are going to be stealing, and so, you're not prepared for that," said State Auditor Susan Montee when she discussed the Municipal Court audit report."

That is one of the reasons I wrote State Auditor wrong or lying, City of Springfield's Finance Director says, "checks not a problem." This was the second time I had either heard with my own ears or read another reporter relay that Springfield's Finance Director didn't really believe that a recommendation made by the State Auditor was a problem.

Regarding the State audit's discovery that city employees were not turning in detailed receipts to document employee purchasing card spending, Decker said she did not feel there was a problem with the issue:

"For the amount of transactions we process, we don't have a problem with receipts not being turned in, Decker said. "We do understand when people are traveling or doing a lot of business, occasionally a receipt will get lost and we try to accommodate that. It's just that we don't want that to become a habit."

According to Decker, in such cases employees are allowed to turn in a memo describing what was purchased with their card." - Community Free Press - Midweek, City Officials Grapple With Audit, January 2-15, 2008 issue.

Back to the article, "Are Springfield Funds Now Protected," I listed employee theft Statistics:

> $50 billion dollars are lost annually due to employee theft and fraud.

> 20 percent of all businesses fail due to internal theft and fraud.
> A company loses 1 percent to 2 percent of its sales to crime -- most committed by or in collusion with employees.
> One in three employees steal and it's rising 5 percent a year.
> 20 - 25 percent of the work force will cheat when the stakes are high and supervision is low.
> 10 percent of the work force will cheat no matter what.
> 75 percent of all employees steal at least once -- half of these, at least twice.
> 43 pecent of workers admitted stealing from their employers.
> Employee theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S.

Naturally, all of us want to trust and give the benefit of the doubt to everyone, whether they are an employee of McDonalds, WalMart or our local city government and I don't mean to suggest that people who work for the city are more inclined to steal than other employees but neither would I suggest they are less inclined to steal than other employees. I just want to see employee theft taken seriously and I think a little less "benefit of the doubt," in light of those statistics might be called for, especially when discussing the public trust. Susan Montee said because we don't expect government employees to be stealing, "you're not prepared for that." We need to be prepared for that, we need to be preventing that.


"Some of the most likable people you'll ever meet may have little morals and little integrity."


Anonymous said...

Your Dad told you: "Some of the most likable people you'll ever meet may have little morals and little integrity." My Dad told me: "never do business with someone who tells you how good a Christian he is, you'll get the short end of the stick everytime."

Our Dads were pretty smart men.

Jacke M. said...

Sometimes I would wish our Dads weren't so smart though.

As a Christian having been on the "short end of the stick," myself in dealing with Christian employers that's such a sad testiment to the faith. Very unfortunate. I don't think it is necessarily true that one gets the short end of the stick EVERY time, I'd hope it would be a rarity but the fact that Christians are more scrutinized than others for honesty and integrity just makes it stand out all the more when they fall short and might make it SEEM like it happens every time.

Thanks for the comment. I'd like to think I haven't presented anyone with "the short end of the stick," myself. :)

Patrick Murphy said...

People steal when they find that the oversight/auditing of procedures is poor.

Employee theft in the news always has a similar theme: We were shocked and disappointed....

The sentence should read: We have an oversight process in place but we just have not been keeping up with it.

Inspect what you expect.
Pat Murphy
LPT Security Consulting