(no subject)

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Wed Mar 31 1999 - 20:53:49 PST


Posted at 3:46 p.m. PST Saturday, March 27, 1999 
Private eyes in demand in Silicon Valley
Mercury News Staff Writer

Embezzlement, theft and other kinds of white-collar crime against
corporations are growing in this region, keeping law enforcement officials
busy and creating demand for sophisticated, and expensive, private

Whenever you have good economic times, controls loosen up, says Santa
Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy. 

White-collar criminals are taking advantage of the relatively permissive
Silicon Valley culture. 

It's far easier for dishonest people to steal here than in many other
places because the notion of business security is not as advanced as it is
in, say, the Northeast, says Lee Altschuler, leader of Deloitte & Touche's
fraud squad in San Jose. Part of the valley's culture is to empower
people. You don't get 20 people to sign off before you buy something. And
it's relatively easy to steal information. It goes on a floppy, a
cartridge or an e-mail, and it's gone, Altschuler says. So much of the
valley's wealth is concentrated in R&D and information. The DA's office is
prosecuting a record dozen cases involving the theft of intellectual
property, and its major fraud unit has been working on crimes in which
savvy crooks have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies,
says Mark Hames, a deputy DA. 

In one case, a phony computer company stole the identity of ComputerEZE in
Auburn and used it to buy more than $100,000 worth of merchandise. In
another, an employee of the Tandem Computers subsidiary of Compaq Computer
Corp. falsely billed the company for more than $500,000. 

Businesses aren't as reluctant as they used to be to report such crimes to
law enforcement officials, Hames says. 

Nonetheless, many companies want their own investigators. That's why
Deloitte & Touche, one of the Big Five accounting firms, recently hired
two experienced federal officials to beef up its offices in San Jose and
San Francisco: Altschuler, who spent six years as head of the U.S.
attorney's office in San Jose, and George Vinson, a 23-year FBI veteran
who led teams that investigated high-tech crimes such as credit card theft
rings and a group that used a bulletin board to sell copyrighted software

Large accounting firms have employed investigative accountants for years,
Kennedy says, and his department sometimes uses them. But hiring a former
U.S. attorney is something he hadn't seen before. It adds a whole new
dimension, he says. 

Since joining Deloitte in January, Altschuler and Vinson have worked on a
broad variety of cases.  One involved a senior officer of a large publicly
traded company who charged more than $250,000 in personal expenses to his
corporate expense account. In another case, thieves used a corporate
computer network and an ally in the loss prevention department to steal
tens of thousands of dollars in high-ticket items and return them for

Businesses turn to private investigators for many reasons. Public
resources are stretched thin, and violent crime usually has a higher
priority than white-collar crime. We can probably service a client, in
general, faster (than law enforcement), Vinson says. We aren't encumbered
with subpoenas and federal rules of criminal procedure, though we have to
observe privacy rights. Companies may also want to avoid publicity, which
can lead to questions about management. And they may not want to lose
control of the case, which usually happens when law enforcement is

Cases are addressed differently depending on how much has been stolen,
Altschuler says. Sometimes the right answer is to put improved controls in
place and move on. Sometimes it's trying to get the money back informally.
Sometimes people are civilly sued, or criminally prosecuted. And sometimes
it's all that, and the Securities and Exchange Commission or another
regulatory agency will be brought in. This type of work isn't cheap. Fees
in these cases can start at $25,000. ``Some grow and become monsters,''
Vinson says, and can cost a company up to $500,000. 

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