Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Simons: FBI agent offers a timely message on ethics and crime

April 22, 2006


To many, the constant efforts and messages stressing the importance of ethics, honesty and character are likened to beating a dead horse. The warnings and alarms go in one ear and out the other, and many of those preaching the message of ethics and honesty are looked upon as goody-goodies, out of touch with the real world.

Chances are, the vast majority of the more than 500 students, faculty and townspeople who packed Kansas University's Woodruff Auditorium this past Monday evening left the lecture by a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent with a much better understanding of "white-collar crime" and the importance of ethics and honesty.

FBI Special Agent Robert Herndon presented a program titled "Diluted Trusts: Moral Failure and White Collar Crime."

The 1985 KU graduate told of first-hand experiences in exposing and prosecuting a number of white-collar crimes and illustrated his address with pictures of mobsters, FBI agents, business executives, judges and others who have been caught and sent to prison. He also played audio tapes and videos with those being investigated caught discussing how they intended to cheat and break the law.

Herndon had a most attentive audience with very few people leaving before the end of the presentation, which lasted more than an hour. He stressed the role of greed and how greed, the justification of cheating "just a little," the justification for telling just a little lie or illegally taking just a small amount of money are all likely to eventually lead an individual into serious trouble.

It was a sober message, and it had the full attention of those in his audience. Herndon played a central role in the apprehension and prosecution of the Kansas City pharmacist who diluted chemotherapy drugs intended for cancer patients.

The pharmacist's actions started in a minor way but escalated to the level that when convicted, he received the longest prison sentence of any white-collar criminal: 30 years.

The FBI agent worked undercover for three years, using an assumed name and false addresses. He was a lead investigator in the 10-year Archer, Daniels, Midland investigation that resulted in the company paying more than $100 million in criminal fines and $300 million in civil fines in addition to three company executives being found guilty of violating antitrust provisions.

At the beginning of his program, Herndon noted that college seniors in his audience probably were thinking about their careers following graduation, getting a good job, perhaps marrying and buying a home. He said he knew there were many excellent students in the audience.

He then added, similar situations existed at gatherings of other students at other schools in past years where excellent students like David Wittig, the ADM executives and other eventual criminals dreamed of doing well and taking advantage of their college education to find good jobs and lead the good life. The only trouble is that these individuals had an almost fatal flaw that was revealed when greed entered their thinking. This flaw became more pervasive and the individuals found more ways to justify their actions.

Eventually, many of these individuals are caught and their lives are ruined.

Herndon's message was one that should be heard by all college and high school students, as well as by parents and teachers. Ethics, honesty and character do count, and those who think they can get by with a little lie, a little cheating, a little embezzlement are caught in an insidious vice that often is impossible to shake.

Herndon did an excellent job in presenting this story, and KU faculty members Richard DeGeorge and Joe Reitz, both members of the KU School of Business faculty, are to be commended for their longtime efforts to get more KU faculty members, as well as the administration, to give greater attention to ethics, honesty and character.

It's a matter that deserves the serious attention of all citizens.

¢ With the cost of a barrel of oil passing $70, how long will it take before Americans realize they need to do something about this nation's addiction to oil?

If the addiction cannot be shaken, or even if the thirst for oil is abated, this country must get serious about reducing our dependence on oil from foreign sources.

Some of the remedial actions include:

¢ Allowing greater exploration closer to the California, Oregon and Washington coasts.

¢ Taking advantage of the almost unlimited supply of nuclear energy, coal and using wind power, even in the Kansas Flint Hills.

¢ Construction of more oil refineries.

¢ The easing of many costly and delaying tactics of environmentalists.

¢ Allowing noninvasive exploration and development of oilfields in Alaska.

¢ Incentives to increase the number of fuel-efficient automobiles and trucks.

¢ And, with all such efforts, taking every reasonable effort to protect the environment.

At some time, however, Americans must get real about the situation and acknowledge vast amounts of oil are yet to be discovered. However, so many restrictions and associated costs prohibit this exploration and production. What will be the eventual trade-off? Limiting domestic oil production and the sure-to-come painful effects of escalating oil prices, or using common sense and approaching the energy crisis in a sound, positive and long-range manner.

How serious will the situation have to become before sensible concessions - by all parties - result in making this country far more energy independent?

The time to start is now. In fact, it should have been started years ago. It takes time to build a refinery, build nuclear power plants, develop new oil production and develop alternative sources of energy.

Conservation and protecting the environment should be a constant effort, but conservation alone will not get the job done. We need more crude oil, more refineries, far more nuclear energy plants, greater use of alternative sources of energy and greater energy efficiency.

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