Archive for Tuesday, April 18, 2006

FBI agent: Convicted pharmacist showed no remorse

April 18, 2006


Robert Courtney wasn't the typical white-collar criminal.

When the Kansas City, Mo., pharmacist confessed to diluting cancer drugs, affecting as many as 4,200 patients, he showed little emotion, according to Robert Herndon, an FBI special agent who worked the case.

"He never expressed any real remorse for what he had done," Herndon said. "He carries himself a little bit different than most people think. He does not come across as being a warm and friendly pharmacist."

Herndon on Monday gave an insider's perspective on the case that shocked the region and grabbed national headlines. He presented Kansas University's 2006 Walter S. Sutton Ethics Lecture, "Diluted Trust: Moral Failure and White Collar Crime." The lecture drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 people to Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union.

Courtney, now serving a 30-year prison sentence, pleaded guilty in 2002 to diluting chemotherapy drugs for profit.

Some never confess. But for those who do, the confession is often followed with an expression of remorse or regret, Herndon said. Not so with Courtney.

"I'd say he's atypical," he said.

Herndon gave insight into several cases he helped investigate, including the 1990s Archer Daniels Midland price-fixing scandal.

Herndon said white-collar criminals are united in their greed, often for money or power.

"They had a single focus in their life," he said. "They put the money part or the financial part ahead of everything else."

Joseph Reitz, KU business professor and co-director of KU's International Center for Ethics in Business, said the university invited Herndon to talk with students and send them a message about ethics.

"I'm tired of hearing about white-collar crime," Reitz said. "I'm afraid our students are getting the wrong picture."

Sarah McGee, a KU business major, said the business school appeared to be focused on ethics - and that's a good thing.

Taking the easy, illegal way can seem tempting, she said, but it's not the right way to go.

"It's just not worth it," she said.

Herndon said the people he investigates come from good families and get good jobs, but greed leads them astray. He pressed the students to take the higher road.

White-collar criminals are similar to other criminals in their stupidity, Herndon said.

"I think all criminals are dumb," he said. "It doesn't make sense to commit a crime."

But their pressure points can be different.

While other criminals may like to brag about their crimes and accept, if not relish, the media attention, white-collar criminals fear the raising of the curtain, the newspaper headlines and the chance that family might find out.

"What they fear most is embarrassment," Herndon said.

White-collar crime was a top priority for the FBI for years. On Sept. 11, 2001, agents were meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller to discuss the Courtney case - at the time the biggest case for the FBI in the country. In the midst of the meeting, Mueller was notified of the terrorist attacks and the focus changed, Herndon said. In the wake of 9-11, the FBI turned its focus to terrorism.

Herndon, a KU graduate, grew up watching "The F.B.I.," a show that ran in the 1960s and early 1970s. An F.B.I. recruiter went to his church. A Secret Service agent lived in his neighborhood.

When he studied for a business administration and accounting degree in the 1980s, it was with the knowledge that the FBI often hired accountants. And when faced with the option of spending his days compiling financial statements or joining the FBI to help "save the world," Herndon said he opted for the latter.

He's working on a corporate fraud and a mortgage fraud case now, he said, but he would not give details.


cutny 12 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, how topical. What, this happened about 3 or 4 years ago? Let's wait another year or two to bring it up.

jetgirl 12 years, 1 month ago

I think this would have been a more interesting article if the writer had discussed why Robert Herndon was speaking at KU. Like the other commenters, many of us have already read about Courtney so he is old news. Nothing is mentioned about the Walter S. Sutton Lecture Series, the Sutton family, or other distinguished lectures who have visited. More info could have been given on Herndon's background as well as info given on why ethics in business has become more important, or at least more visible, these days. This is a very disappointing article compared to what I believe it could have been.

Rhoen 12 years, 1 month ago

The yearly ethics lecture is a good start ... but if the KU business school were really interested in providing its students with a grounding in systems of ethics, it would require an ethics course as part of the degree programs it offers.

Several years ago, a KU MBA graduate was the honored speaker at a business school event. That esteemed alum was David Wittig (currently serving time in federal prison for his own out-of-control entrepreneurship). He had just returned to Kansas as the head of then-KPL, having done himself some good in New York.

His speech at that event focused mostly on colorful anecdotes from his career-to-date that showcased his renegade spirit, his dog-eat-dog mentality, and the way he had made recklessly "thinking outside the box" work to his favor.

If the business school spent even a percentage of the time it does on covering up cheating scandals in providing some required ethics training, its distinguished graduates might shine in areas other than their fat bank accounts, their cushy retirement funds, and their golden parachutes.

Linda Aikins 12 years, 1 month ago

OTTR, a friend's mother received these also, and died. Very sad.

dozer 12 years, 1 month ago

Marion - Given your posts on this community and personal responsibility, I would think you would be pleased that KU is taking active steps to educate its students about ethics in the workplace? What's the matter, story not "sexy" enough for you to read?

mom_of_three 12 years, 1 month ago

Jetgirl- there was more about the lecture series printed in Sunday's paper. Perhaps the paper didn't want to repeat information.

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

What is unethical is not necessarily illegal. This article, and Prof Reitz, seem to tie the two concepts together, as though they are synonymous.

Teaching business ethics involves leading people recognize what is right and wrong, in moral terms, and how to apply this sense to business dealings. I do not think KU is in a position to do that.

Rhoen 12 years, 1 month ago

Godot, you're probably right ... it would be the blind leading the partially sighted ...

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