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  • Richard Bistrong

Bribery’s Other Victim: The Families

In my post  Deterrence, You Had me at Being Caught, I shared my own experience with respect to incarceration and how that related to the oft-discussed issue of criminal deterrence. I concluded “The impact of saying good bye to a wife and children knowing that your only remaining contact will be in a visiting room for an extended period of time is nothing but traumatic. Trying to “coach” my children through their college and grad-school application processes via time delayed e-mails and limited phone calls, was difficult at best. “

“Using up phone minutes before the end of a month knowing you won’t get to hear the voices of loved ones until they renew next month was a gut-wrenching experience. It is not worth it, not even close. I never thought I would get caught, ever, and had fourteen and a half months to think about “being above the law” while major life events for my family passed with me as a spectator from afar. Think about it, please.”

As I hope those concluding paragraphs demonstrate, bribery is about people, people who confront risk, and people, who like myself, rationalized “bribery” and faced real consequences. Bribery incorporates greed, temptation, illusions and distortions, which are all part of human emotion and decisions. Today, as part of elevating the personal dynamic of bribery, which I see very much missing from the compliance “debate,” I invited fellow blogger Lisa Lawler for an interview.

Q: Hi Lisa: Thank you for sharing your views with the anti-bribery and compliance community. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi Richard, and thank you for having me as your guest. When I first began my own long and grueling process of becoming a white-collar wife there were no resources and no one to help guide me along the way. As a result, like other white-collar wives, I began to live my life in the shadows of shame and the isolation was at times, nearly unbearable. I am “seven years in” now, as us white collar wives say, because women and children do “time” right alongside their husbands and fathers, and I am now far enough down the road in my own recovery to share my story and hopefully help others. I began to blog about my experience in hopes of drawing out other women who are in need of support. My blog, has helped to flush out other white-collar wives and has led me to develop a closed Facebook support group called The Secret Lives of White Collar Wives. I have developed an additional tool for women called the White Collar Wives Survival Guide to be published on line in the near future. My book, House on Fire: A Cautionary Tale is near completion and I hope to see that published as well in the near future.

Q: Lisa, we read a great deal these days about white-collar criminal enforcement, both from a personal and corporate perspective. The compliance blogs are populated with articles on criminal deterrence, but I have not seen anything that addresses “the family.” For those family members who are left behind, after a period of incarceration begins, what does it all mean?

The fallout of white-collar crime has far reaching tentacles, each armed with tiny atom bombs that obliterate everything they come in contact with. Families are often left in financial ruin and are forced into lives of great uncertainty. The once solid ground they based their lives upon is gone. A mother who has traded her prime earning years to stay home, give up her own career, and care for the family is now faced with having to support the household. We live in a time where the job market is highly competitive and as such requires a highly skilled work force. How can a woman whose work as a homemaker, (acknowledged as one of the toughest and most underpaid professions), possibly compete with highly skilled workers? She can’t. When a head of household is imprisoned for white-collar crime their family not only potentially loses all monetary assets, (if anything remains after legal costs and having no incoming revenue), but they also lose the lives and relationships they’ve spent a lifetime building.

Q: What about the children?

Children suffer in the extreme when a parent is incarcerated no matter how long or short the sentence. It is a shocking event for them and depending on the length of the sentence, children may be forever scarred.   They have to live with the knowledge that a parent they once looked up to is now a common criminal who didn’t care enough about them to do the right thing. They cannot hide from the public’s scorn as they have to attend school every day, play sports and interact with their peers. In many cases kids are taunted and bullied by their classmates because of the sins of their fathers.   This kind of catastrophic event causes children to shut down. Their development can be delayed and their mental as well as physical health can often be compromised. A long sentence means that a child may lose a parent for the entirety of their formative years. Parenting from prison is not what any child deserves or should ever have to endure.

Q: If you could sit down with someone who is struggling with business decisions in terms of ethical choices, what would you say?

If you get caught and you are incarcerated you will miss your family terribly. Remorse and regret are your constant companions. The facility you have been placed in may be hundreds of miles from your home and family. Keeping in mind that most marriages do not survive the consequences of white-collar crime, are you prepared to go it alone in prison? In so many cases, as I have seen, you will be incarcerated without your family there to support you, or even there for you upon your release. If your family does stand by you, is it their responsibility to accommodate you by uprooting their lives and following you from one prison designation to the next? There is a limit to what one can and or should have to endure.

Q: Given that this blog pertains to overseas bribery, what might you add?

I can absolutely see that for those operating and traveling extensively overseas, as you have discussed during your own career, that there could be the additional rationalization that bringing some extra cash home gives you a better than good chance of appeasing the family. Why? Because the wife has been doing the majority of the child rearing while you’ve been wining and dining your way around the world! You’ve missed countless track meets, soccer games, birthdays, etc. Wouldn’t a long summer trip to Hawaii, (that you otherwise could not afford), make up for the weeks and months you’ve been away? Or perhaps there’s enough money now to upgrade to a bigger home, boat, vacation house and or a new car?

I can totally see that rationalization, but please abandon this deception because the truth is your family would rather have less of everything than less of you if you’re caught and put behind bars. Maybe the level of corruption risk where you work, and I am sure that some territories are worse than others, is just too high given the importance of family. You must ask yourself if the financial gain is worth risking your personal sovereignty or your family’s solvency.

Q: Anything you might want to add as a “final word of caution?”

The bottom line is this: If you are willing to place your family in economic and emotional ruin in exchange for your own personal gain and the illusion that you are “doing it for your family,” then prison might be the right place for you. White-collar crime isn’t something that is done FOR the family; rather it is done TO the family. Your family depends on you to go out into the world and do to the right thing because you are ethically bound to hold your family’s best interests above all else.

So, think of this as I relate to your rationalization of “no witnesses”: The next time you are in a secluded room in an overseas locale with your agent and the talk turns to corruption, please think of your family as being right there with you in the room. If you make that deal then they are making it right along with you. Consider the fact that when confronting a corrupt discussion, your family’s welfare is literally at stake. And Richard, while you point to the numerous papers about how foreign bribery victimizes entire societies, which is unquestionably true and tragic, I hope that our Q and A reminds readers that foreign bribery has another victim: the families. Thank you.


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