Documenting corporate deceit

FROM THE PRESIDENT AND CEO
Bruce Dorris, J.D., CFE, CPA

Alex Gibney has documented many fraud cases in his three decades as a filmmaker. From his first big hit in 2005, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” to the more recent documentary about Elizabeth Holmes, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” Gibney has long been exploring the psychology of deceit and why bright and talented people turn to the dark side.

Gibney’s films have laid bare the greed, fraud and corruption that take place across the corporate world. So, it’s fitting that he’s this year’s winner of the Guardian Award, which the ACFE presents annually to a person who shows determination and perseverance in exposing specific acts of fraud and white-collar crime. The ACFE will present the award at our 33rd Annual Global Fraud Conference June 19-24 in Nashville.

Gibney’s work educates and entertains us. But we’re also shocked to see how easily the subjects of his documentaries deceive the public via charm and good narratives. As Gibney points out in this issue’s cover story, Holmes was a superb storyteller. She conned former heads of state and savvy investors who willfully denied her lies because they wanted to believe her inspiring story.

Years after the collapse of her company, Theranos, Holmes was found guilty in January of lying to investors about the capabilities of her blood-testing device, which in retrospect was destined to fail. Fraudsters often succeed for so long, says Gibney, because people fail to ask the simple questions that would expose wrongdoing. Holmes’ investors preferred to believe they were helping to create a revolutionary new technology to improve lives.

Indeed, the driving forces behind fraud, particularly in the corporate world, can be complex. But as Gibney’s films also show, a poor or outright corrupt tone at the top often justifies — in fraudsters’ minds — bad behavior. ACFE research consistently demonstrates that poor tone at the top is a principal internal control weakness. Controls serve no function if those in charge of enforcing them are the primary violators.

Brave whistleblowers who populate Gibney’s films — such as Sherron Watkins, Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz — unmask and speak out against corrupt executives. Our recently released Occupational Fraud 2022: Report to the Nations shows once again how important hotlines are for organizations — 42% of frauds were detected by tips, with more than half of those coming from employees. (See ACFE.com/RTTN.)

The ACFE is proud to honor Mr. Gibney. We feel he must be a fraud examiner at heart — his documentaries expose fraud, help bring those who commit it to justice and remind everyone to be vigilant in searching for the truth.

SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners