Friday, May 05, 2006

White-collar defalcation and gambling addiction

One of these cases happens, on my estimate, about a dozen times a year in Australia: a white-collar worker (often, but not necessarily at a bank), trusted to some extent with access to large sums of money, steals a six-to-eight-figure sum from his/her employer/clients and gambles it away, almost always either on poker machines or casino table games.

An interesting feature of such surprisingly common (given the large sums involved) crimes is that Anglo men seem grossly under-represented among the perpetrators. I don’t have any stats to cite here, but I start from a premise that Anglo men have at least as great a representation in jobs-that-allow-six-to-eight-figure-defalcation as they do in the general population.

Yet almost all convicted gambling-related defalcators in recent years have been (a) women, or (b) non-Anglo men. I’m not sure what to make of the latter part of this otherwise, as in contradistinction to Macquarie University’s Andrew Fraser, I don’t believe that “race” is a valid scientific concept.

As far as the women-vs-men thing goes, however, while I accept that science (especially when combined with popular belief) can (i) overstate the differences between the genders, and (ii) be wilfully blind to the dividing line being quite blurry in some (fairly rare) cases (viz intersex/transgendered people), I am prepared to state with some certainty that women in jobs-that-allow-six-to-eight-figure-defalcation should go through greater pre-employment probity checks and ongoing monitoring than men. (“Should” here as in “good for employers”; private-sector frauds don’t affect me personally, not being a shareholder in anything.) In particular, if there is any indication that such a (NOTE: not any) female employee is a regular poker-machine player, serious alarm bells should automatically ring with the employer.

(Disclaimer to the above: yes, I know it sounds sexist, and that I don’t cite any relevant stats. Further, I acknowledge that enforcing it would be difficult. But as I’ve said recently in another context (white-trash single mums blowing “their” (= their kids’, actually) welfare on pokies), banning poker-machines, period, has to be seriously considered as an option here).

Anyway, back to the latest case (penultimate URL), in which Erik Tjandra (who I’m guessing from his name and appearance is of Indonesian- or Malaysian-Chinese birth/ancestry) is charged with stealing about $10m from his former employer (the Commonwealth Bank) and/or its clients (media reports do not make clear, curiously enough, who is ultimately going to wear the loss).

While it’s early days in the case, one thing already stands out: that Tjandra has got bail, and on fairly lax conditions ($50,000 surety for a $10m alleged fraud – you do the math). Notably, he has not (AFAICT) been required to surrender his passports (I’m not a big gambler, but I’d bet anything that Tjandra’s got at least two). Of course, being remanded for white-collar theft is not particularly common, but I would have thought that Tjandra’s facing ten years plus in the slammer (ten years is what that Frank De Stefano, who stole and gambled $8m, got sentenced to three years ago), might mean that Tjandra’s bail would be exceptionally strict, if at all.

What does remain to be seen (apart from Tjandra’s sticking around for the verdict) is whether the casino where most of the $10m was squandered – Sydney’s Star City – is going to be hauled into the criminal trial (and/or become a party to a civil action).

I’ve blogged several times around the themes of casino liability for receiving stolen money, how a creative revival of an old law (vagrancy) could be used to sort ought the (small minority of) genuine recreational gamblers at pokies venues from the majority of welfare-abusers and sundry other criminals, and on the Frank De Stefano verdict. In the last-mentioned post, I made the important but easy-to-miss (unless you, like me, have worked in the gambling industry) that to lose $8m, a gambler, playing as a typical gambling addict does, would have to turn over $50m-80m at the tables.

That is, Star City Casino whooped-and-hollered, or at least quietly watched while subconsciously rubbing its hands together, as a 32 y.o. nerdy-looking “administrator” turned over ~$150,000 a day, every single day for 15 months (or if you prefer him as a weekends-only gambling type, that’s ~$1m each and every weekend for 15 months).


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