Profiles in corruption

In her quest to follow her calling, there have been times when Jan Schwartz found herself being intentionally forced off the road.

Her tires have been punctured, her telephone tapped, her mail intercepted. Undaunted, Schwartz dedicates herself to forensic fraud research, risking her own safety to eliminate white-collar organized crime — and refusing compensation for her efforts.

Working with the criminal investigation division of the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, and several other agencies, Schwartz has become a renowned and respected “crime-buster” of corporate corruption.

“I have a passion about raising the standard for our society, and a need for my sincerity to be understood in this pursuit to raise that standard,” Schwartz says.

Schwartz, who is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Northeastern Ohio University’s College of Medicine, has aided many investigative collaborations and conducted countless interviews with sources and offenders, making her all too familiar with the profiles of corruption.

Painting a chilling portrait of the white-collar criminal, Schwartz says that recognizing the characteristics may help others deter corporate malfeasance. But she cautions that professionals may be stunned that these traits typify someone with whom they work, and may reveal that their own workplace is ripe for, or rife with, white-collar crime.

“Corporate offenders tend to be members of ‘old-boy networks,’” says Schwartz. “They’re usually educated individuals and upstanding members of the community. Many are extraordinarily sincere and devout in their intentions. But others are there for their own ulterior motive. Very often, they are leaders that marionette the activity.”

Reporting to the leaders are “lieutenants” who seek out vulnerable individuals to join the group — such as someone in an emotional or financial predicament — promising to solve that person’s problem in exchange for “cooperation.” People who avoid conflict or who desperately want to belong are also seen as potential group members, says Schwartz.

“The leaders seek out those with an emotional need who will remain with them and be loyal, because to the white-collar criminal, loyalty is a must.”

Beware of the workplace that has a hierarchy of superiority, arrogance and exclusivity, and an environment in which open communication and free thinking is tacitly discouraged, Schwartz cautions. And where there’s a propensity on the part of management to mold the group into a robotic mindset, there’s trouble.

“Those of us in the field see this is a cultic type problem. When someone says, ‘This doesn’t feel quite right,’ and wants to exit the group, many pressures are placed on that person, making it very difficult for them to leave.”

What can professionals — from CEOs to secretaries — do to protect themselves, and the integrity of their workplace? Discourage the “ostrich attitude.” Foster independent thinking skills and sound decision making abilities. And encourage employees to question why when they’re asked to perform a task that seems inconsistent or inappropriate, says Schwartz.

“Innocent employees are often manipulated to help achieve ‘the big goal.’ They may be directed to complete a project and sign off on it. But if their signature goes on the line, and in comes a law enforcement person, they’re assumed to have been a part of it. That’s why, if something doesn’t seem normal, people should speak up.”

But what if an employee who questions authority is fired for insubordination?

“Corrupt activities can only happen if there’s a thick web of influence or bribery that has gone on for so long that people are unsure what normal is,” says Schwartz. “So if you trust your gut feeling and are fired for asking, you may have actually saved yourself from being pulled into the web.”

How to reach: Jan Schwartz Ph.D. (330) 497-4303