So a friend of mine passed me a note about a guy he met in prison while doing volunteer work, and after taking one glance at it I was ENTHRALLED and asked if I could share it here as the takeaways are legit. He obliged, and what you’re about to read is this guy’s story of how he ended up stealing over $1 Million from his company over the years completely ruining his life.
I hope to feature more confessionals like this and turn it into a *series* here since the RAWNESS makes it all the more interesting (and helpful!), so if you or anyone you know ever wants to get something off their chest, you just tell them to hit up Jay! Haha… They can be anonymously famous for a day ;)
But first up, “Steven’s” story as told to my friend Lance… Thanks for being open to it, guys!
At one point I was a millionaire who went on frequent vacations to Europe and Mexico, I had a beautiful family, a decent job, and a terrific life. Now I spend my time sharing a two bunk prison cell.
Here’s how it happened…
I had a good job. I earned a decent salary but it wasn’t anything great. I worked in the advertising department of a large business with around 2,000 employees and did event planning, wrote brochures, and traveled around representing the company to pick up new business. I lived a good life, but watched a lot of my neighbors move to bigger houses, get newer cars, or boats. My brothers-in-law were getting bigger and better jobs and started to make well over 6-figures.
I hated family gatherings and hearing them talk about how great their job was and their latest two week vacation in Fiji or whatever other tropical place they were regularly going to. I would take my family camping in the mountains and we’d cram in to a small, hot tent. Family dinners turned in to bragging sessions to see who could one up each other on their latest contract or company they just signed.
I tried to upgrade my job a few times and just wasn’t having any luck. I thought about going back to school as well. I just felt like I was falling behind and letting my family down. My wife never said anything about it but I just felt that she wished things were better like her sisters had it and it started to put me in a bad state of mind and made me think and justify things I would have never dreamed of doing.
Suddenly my boss left our company with no warning at all and I went from someone who I really liked working with to someone that made my job and life miserable. My new boss was younger than me, cocky, arrogant, had less experience and micromanaged our whole department.
All this led me down the road to making my first mistake which was to use my company credit card for my gas and some personal purchases.
It Was So Easy and No One Ever Followed Up
I remember standing at the gas station getting ready to slide in my corporate credit card for gas. I had done it before because I had to travel to events around the area. We had a company vehicle that we used, but today I was in my own car. I can remember sliding it in the first time and immediately panicked and wondered if I would get caught. I felt like somehow the company would be instantly alerted and the police would show up any second.
I was distracted for several days just waiting for something to happen or be said to me. I turned in my receipts at the end of the month and nothing happened. So I did it again and again and again.
Then in addition to the gas I started making some side purchases. We occasionally ordered items online or picked up things at the local store. I started throwing in a small item that could be work related or possibly not. Just looking at a receipt you couldn’t tell and my boss didn’t ask. He was an a-hole but never bothered me about expenses. He just liked to boss people around.
I would also pick up gift cards and say I was using them for giveaways out at events to give to regular clients or to draw in customers if we had a booth at a convention or expo. That sounded pretty normal and again doesn’t look unusual when purchases were reviewed.
I did it for a couple of years and these items really added up. I also started trying to pass off bigger items and was able to purchase brand new TV’s, laptops, iPad’s, golf clubs, and countless gift cards. I even started selling some of the gift cards and items online for cash.
Getting In To BIG Money
Once you start down this road and get away with it, you don’t think, “I should probably stop.” You just think “What else can I do?” because I finally started to feel rich and I felt I deserved it because my company was underpaying me for my services and my boss was a dick.
So then I took a huge step and I thought about how I could get some of the advertising dollars we were spending. I hated to think how I was helping some account executive get rich off of our advertising. I wanted in on it.
We regularly spent tens of thousands a month in advertising. It takes money to make money and get customers. We would pay ad agencies to buy our advertising online, or with TV, radio, billboards, and anything else. We came up with our own scripts and commercials but used the buying power of an agency that grouped together lots of clients money to negotiate the best deal. It is a very common practice for most businesses to do this so you get a bigger bang for your buck and you also don’t have to negotiate with every advertiser individually.
I would authorize the expense each month and couldn’t believe we would cut checks regularly for $40,000 to $95,000 a month to the agency. I wanted in on that action as well so I came up with a plan.
I told my boss we should consider opening up some bids to other agencies to save some money and see if we can get a better deal and he agreed. Again, the guy wasn’t too in to the details, so I just started bringing him the best offers.
My Fake Company
I set up my own shell company and even set up a simple website to make it look all legitimate just in case someone wanted to look it up. I gave my boss my fake company along with another two legitimate companies. I made good points about each company but felt that by using a smaller agency with less clients they could give us the focus we needed instead of being one of dozens of clients.
My boss was okay with it and I remember putting in the request for payment to accounts payable after creating my first fake invoice and the check was cut and sent to my “agency.”
I remember looking at the business account that I set up at the bank and seeing that first $45,000 sitting there. I knew I couldn’t keep it all and planned on spending most of it on the advertising. I got some strange responses when I was calling around telling people I represented the company now and needed some rates, but I still got away with it over and over for years. It was the beginning of the end.
That first month I spent everything on marketing but $1,000 which was crazy because I knew agencies took a 15-25% cut. So the next month I took 15% and after that 25% and then slowly went up from there. I made more money in two months from my “agency” than I did all year from my regular salary.
I took my family on vacations all over the world. Beach house in Hawaii, why not? Travel through all of Europe, let’s do it! All-inclusives in Mexico, we emptied out the whole liquor bar in our room every few days.
Life was good. No, it was amazing. My wife and family loved our new lifestyle. I told her I was promoted at work. I was raking it in and bought a new sports car for me and a luxury SUV for my wife. Anything we wanted we now had. We remodeled the bathrooms in our house, we upgraded the kitchen to granite everywhere and added all new cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances. We ripped out the carpets and put in wood floors.
Some media companies give away trips or huge monetary gifts for large amounts of advertising with them. We got to go to NYC and go to Broadway plays. I was invited to sit in luxury suites at NFL and NBA games. I started making decisions based on what I could get instead of what was best for my company. Sales started to go down a little bit but not enough to draw major attention. In fact, when we started to dip instead of freaking out I said that we needed to raise up the advertising budget even more to try and maintain sales… and it worked!
I would have gotten away with it forever possibly, but I kept taking a bigger percentage of the advertising budget over time and that started to raise questions. Not at my work, but at the media companies who were tired of missing out on all the big money they used to be getting. It only took one damn conversation for my whole fake world to come crashing down.
The Beginning of the End
The executives of my company were at a golf outing/fundraiser event with a bunch of media companies. These weren’t the small account executives that I worked with, but their big bosses along with the big bosses from my company.
Just one comment at the golf course got me. One GOD DAMN comment by the NBC affiliate who said something like, “Hey I thought you guys liked us, where did you take your money?”
That comment completely took me down.
The executive over our division ended up talking to my boss who then was forced to talk to me. I panicked the first time my boss wanted to talk about it. He never asked or cared about it before so why was he taking interest now? He told me the story and how his boss was putting heat on him so he needed answers.
I tried to cover it up by saying that I told the agency to spend the money online and on radio instead, because TV ratings weren’t that great and people were cutting the cord, and plus with DVRs no one was watching live TV anymore anyways. I was impressed that I was able to come up with that on the spot. Once you start living a lie it almost seems real.
While I thought it seemed like a great argument in my mind, my boss came back with, “We want to meet with the agency and go over what they have been doing and see if we want to continue with them.”
How could my bosses meet with the agency when I was the agency? I thought of every possible solution to this problem. I even tried to see if I could get a guy to represent the agency and would give him a monthly cut from what I had been taking, but then I worried that the guy would have all the control over me and possibly blackmail me knowing what I was doing.
I was sick over the situation. I had been cruising along so well that I just didn’t think I would ever get caught. I delayed the meeting with the agency and my boss for weeks and then in to several months. It only raised more suspicions in to my fake company and even more on to me.
Then one day I got pulled in to a meeting. I went in to the conference room and the heads of the company were there, as well as HR and a couple of police officers.
My boss said that he decided to go visit the agency since they weren’t coming to me. The address for the agency was a townhouse and not an actual business. When they looked up the townhouse owner it showed my name (It was a rental that we owned when my wife and I first got married). Then they checked more into the agency and where the money was going and it again pointed back to me. They started looking in to every single transaction I had ever made since working at the company and pulled out all my purchase records. They had better records than I ever did.
I was then fired and arrested.
I was escorted in handcuffs through the building. It felt like every single person in the company was staring at me. They couldn’t have walked me any slower through the rows of cubicles and out the front door. Curiosity had spread through the building on why there was a police car out front and officers walking in to the building. I thought it was the worst moment of my life, but that moment actually came when I called my wife from jail.
I Lost It All
My wife didn’t believe me at first. Everything that she had been living was a lie. I was a lie.
“I’m in jail honey, I’ve been stealing from work for years.”
“Are you serious? Are you f……. serious!”
She dropped me so fast and took the kids. I don’t blame her. She was humiliated. I haven’t heard once from my wife or children while in prison and I don’t expect to.
I was so obsessed about becoming rich that I did anything to get it. I lived a fantastic life for a long time, but it was all a lie. I hated my job and my boss, but all this extra on the side money made it worth it. I finally had the life I always wanted.
If I could do it over I would just find some way to find peace in my life while making $51,000 a year. I had a house, I had a family, I had great kids, I was just obsessed over being rich.
I’m now ruined for life, no one will ever hire a felon, especially one that stole more than a million dollars from their previous company. Some days I wonder what I’ll do when I get out. Most days I just want to stay in prison forever.
Have a (probably less drastic) confession you’d like to share anonymously? Let me know! ;)
[Photo cred: Chris Miller]