An FBI special agent and Kansas University graduate Tuesday told an audience of mostly KU students to learn the lessons that the white-collar criminals he caught learned too late.
Robert Herndon, an agent based out of Kansas City, has worked cases like the Archer Daniels Midland price-fixing case profiled in the movie “The Informant!” and a case involving a Kansas City-area pharmacist who diluted cancer drugs.
Herndon played some of the actual tapes used in the investigation of the Decatur, Ill.-based ADM, an agricultural processing company. In the case, ADM executive Mark Whitacre — the highest-ranking corporate executive to ever wear a wiretap for the FBI — for years secretly recorded his bosses meeting with competitors to fix prices and drive up profits.
In his speech, Herndon encouraged KU students to live ethical and moral lives before they end up on tape saying things like ADM President Jim Randall.
“Our competitors are our friends. Our customers are the enemy,” the audience heard Randall say on FBI tapes to his competitors.
Eventually in the case, Whitacre admitted to stealing money from the company, and wound up serving more jail time than those he helped convict.
“The greatest intoxicant in the business world?” Herndon asked the audience. “It’s not alcohol. It’s money.”
He encouraged the future business leaders in the audience to have the courage to speak up to their bosses engaging in unethical conduct, saying that action alone would help alleviate crimes hatched in board rooms across America.
“It is never the wrong time to do the right thing,” Herndon said.
He sprinkled his speech with clips from the movie and from actual footage taken from the crimes, showing some of the humorous moments of the investigation.
He showed a picture of the small, round, green lamp that hid the FBI’s video camera while they were filming the price-fixing conspirators.
They only had one lamp, Herndon said.
“This lamp followed those guys around for two and a half years,” he said.
He showed clips from the movie that showed how the amount of money Whitacre took from the company kept increasing over time, depending on whom he was talking to — all the way up to $9.5 million.
“If you never told the first lie, you’d never have to tell the second lie or the third lie,” Herndon remembered telling Whitacre, adding that the advice applied to everyday life, as well.
He encouraged the students to adjust their attitudes and to keep a positive outlook on life, and to be ready to accept change if necessary.
“The more you change the way you look at things, the more things begin to change,” he said, repeating a technique used in FBI investigations.