Tired of your dead-end job? Why not become a convicted fraud felon and sell your secrets to the FBI!
Seriously. Meet Barry Minkow at his FDI site. (Yes, FDI, not FBI.)
Here’s a guy who once went to prison for schlepping hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers in the 1980s. He even once bunked with a convicted murderer, and his biography claims that he spent seven years in prison among many of the “nation’s leading white-collar criminals.”
Apparently, they taught him how to play the PR game to the hilt. It seems these days that most people convicted of some sort of crime tend to find God or some religion when all else fails. Folgers Coffee drinkers – take heed – you’ve got competition with Insta-Religion and Insta-Credibility poured in for good measure.
As always, to best perpetuate fraud, it requires that you establish some form of credibility with your victim. I don’t know Minkow, but his FDI website looks conspicuously like the FBI in terms of acronyms. It does sound a bit misleading. I imagine the fun I’d have if I worked at the FDI:
“FREEZE!! YOU’RE UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE FDI!!”
“Wha- the… ?”
“Nah, man! Just joking with you! I said FDI! Not FBI! Didn’t you catch that?”
“You ok? Buddy, you ain’t looking too good. You need a what? A heart – oh, a heart attack? You’re having a heart attack? What’s the name of your church? I’ll investigate them! Don’t worry, if you die, I’ll be sure to investigate the hell outta them! Here’s my card. Praise Jesus.”
I read a bit more into the FDI website and found that Minkow thrives on killing Christian churches, even though he leads his own church. Wow! Talk about eliminating competition! Minkow has got it down pat! Jailhouse rules seem to apply to Minkow: to survive, one must eliminate the competition. Included is a "frauds gone wild" video segment on the FDI website. Imagine half-naked, barely legal girls dancing and frolicking for accountants during tax season.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported his latest target is a vitamin supplement distributor, Usana Health Sciences. Reading his responses to Usana’s defamation lawsuit had me wondering what Minkow does for a hobby. The whole website, as I mentioned previously, is one giant Minkow self-promotional blog – even if it’s hidden under the pretenses of being some institute of fraud – and I find the whole Usana vs. Minkow to be less about consumers and more about Minkow.
The odd thing Minkow does in his press release is try to laugh at Usana for picking a personal fight. The guy had to know that Usana (or anyone) Minkow went after would first point out the fact that Minkow is a fraudulent convict, and still hasn’t repaid his restitution. He claims it doesn’t matter, because the crux of the issue is that he found fraud at Usana and even offers his prison ID number, and I can’t help but wonder if Minkow is feeling nostalgic about his time in prison. Maybe he wants to go back and bunk with his buddy, the convicted murderer?
Except it does matter. To not find fraud would represent the loss of untold man-hours and money spent poring over financial documents, hiring CPA’s and other accounting people to find “clues”. It would also represent the loss of potential income for Minkow and the mirage that is known as FDI.
In simple terms: no fraud is equitable to no money. To find fraud would mean to create a huge windfall, especially for consulting fees, such as Minkow utilizes with the FBI. But what happens when no fraud is found and bills must be paid, such as massive restitution fees?
Create fraud, or at least the appearance of it! Supposing that, ultimately, no fraud is found on the part of Usana, and the defamation suit presses forth and Usana wins, then Minkow will lose much of his credibility and ability to demand exorbitant consulting fees. That would be an unacceptable option for a man as deeply in debt as Minkow. If you create the appearance of fraud, you’ve got some time to sell yourself as an expert and demand higher fees for consultations. Plus, if at a later date, someone within Usana became convicted of fraud – even if Minkow had nothing to do with it – then kudos could be heaped upon Minkow simply for throwing the word “fraud” at Usana officials.
In short, Minkow has only two options: to find fraud or create it. It’s that simple. Additionally, the court papers filed by Usana suggest that Minkow rushed in his haste to financial glory. I don’t know. Something sounds fishy. I’m still drawn back to his FDI website and I chuckled to myself because of the acronymic similarity to FBI. Then I remember something I read somewhere a long time ago, “the best lies always have a figment of truth to them.” I’m not saying Minkow is a liar, but much of the FDI website offers generalities and few specifics. He could quite possibly be deceiving people because he claims to have never missed a restitution payment, but fails to mention if he always paid $5,000 a month or just $50 per month. Either way, it’s ambiguous at best, and misleading or downright fraudulent at worst.
Moreover, the idea of private fraud “discovery” organizations existing solely on the premise of offering consultations and investigations seems unethical in this case. It seems unethical because Minkow is obviously money-driven, and as people know, money is rarely a good motivator for ethical conduct.
Who’s to know if Minkow is motivated entirely by greed? Suppose he wants to be rid of the restitution fees that he still owes, even to one victim? What if he needs more money because he wants a bigger house? Relying on Medicare-addicted, 98-year-old Granny, who feels cheated because her prayers weren’t answered at her church and hired Minkow to investigate her unanswered prayers seems counterproductive and hardly represents any opportunity to garner any significant fees for Minkow. Maybe there is a reason why he’s an expert at elderly fraud.
Relying on elderly people to fund his crusades is not a proper theory; in fact the contending theory is that Minkow wants fame and fortune now. You do realize that it’s been 20 years since Minkow was caught stealing people’s money, and maybe that’s what it is: Minkow wants to celebrate the once-good-lifestyle he had. The best way to do that? Make a huge splash in the media. So far, so good.
Still, the best part about Minkow’s deal is that he’s not even licensed to be a fraud investigator, even though FDI itself is a licensed investigator. If anything, that sounds fishy to me. Who needs licensing when the organization can be licensed? I should ask certain people back home about licensing and how organizational licensing seems to defeat the whole premise of licensing individuals.
I don’t want to go to prison. I don’t want to be somebody’s bitch in prison – especially a convicted murderer’s. I think I’ll take a page out of Minkow’s book and tell people that I’ve been to prison before (but of course, I’ll omit the fact that I went for a college class field trip) and that I’m a born-again Christian (I was once, but am now an atheist), and create an organization called Fight Back Institute (FBI) and be paid exorbitant fees so I can live the good life.
I’m giving up my MBA degree. I don’t need any stinking degrees anymore. I’ll claim fraud within any organization and hope that soon, someone will be accused of fraud and then be convicted and then I can claim that I did it all and that it was my expertise that started the chain-reaction and that I’ll be writing a book shortly afterward – and that I’ll be training more idiots on fraud prevention, and converting all that publicity into money so I can live lavishly, because … well … I can. Just like Minkow.
I don’t know if Barry Minkow is still a fraud these days. The FDI website looks a bit shady, if nothing else, because it’s entirely self-promotional and all about Barry Minkow. I’m even surprised that Minkow himself doesn’t refer himself in the third person. And the fact that the FDI contains the “FRAUDS GONE WILD!” videos suggests that Minkow is more about sensationalism and material greed than the ethical, honest and integrity-driven pursuit of the truth.
Fraud or not, Barry Minkow sure knows how to fool people. And, he knows how to milk PR for every cent its worth, too. Whether he’s misleading people or simply pursuing the truth, his track record reminds me of an old proverb:
Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Whatever happened to Don King, anyway?