Bad Ethics: Woman Steals a Million from Her Employer

There is a famous line from an Ernest Hemingway novel where one character asks a formerly rich man, “How did you lose your fortune?” Said the formerly rich man, “First, a little at a time, then all at once.” Bad ethics and poor choices can often work in the same way especially when it comes to fraud and theft.

The opportunity to steal may be there and at first an unethical person who feels he or she has the need to steal might dip their toe in the water to see if anyone notices, then it will get a little more bold with each occurrence.  This is the foundation of bad ethics.  At some point, the unethical person may get in so deep that repayment or reconsideration seems almost pointless. In fact, the unethical person may construct all kinds of justifications that are almost absurd in their logic. For example, “He’s such a rich so and so, he deserves to get some of it taken from him.”  Bad ethics almost always ends with distorted rationalizations.

Bad Ethics: Enter Joann Perrino

The Westchester County News reported the bizarre, highly unethical journey of an administrative assistant named Joann Perrino who could be facing up to 15 years in prison for stealing $1 million from her boss. She is no kid; Ms. Perrino is 60 years old. If she is convicted, the remaining best years of her life could be ended.  How do you go from knowing better to bad ethics leading to potential prison?

According to the article:

“The district attorney’s office said Perrino initiated transfers and wrote checks from her employer’s account to pay for personal expenses, including car and mortgage payments, travel expenses, spa treatments and, on one occasion, a $4,366 shopping spree on clothes.”

She carried on this theft from January 2009 to May 2014. She is guilty of grand larceny. Though she is currently out on bail, Ms. Perrino will have to pay back the $1 million and still face jail time.

It might be remotely understandable if Ms. Perrino had a deathly ill child and needed the money to afford medical expenses, but her stealing was frivolous and self-indulgent. For example, on one occasion she stole nearly $5,000 for a clothing shopping spree. How or why her boss did not realize the theft was occurring for such a long time is largely irrelevant. The point is, she was trusted and she had no compunction about violating that trust.  Violating trust equals bad ethics.

Make no assumptions

What is the profile many of us imagine when we picture an employee stealing from an employer? Is it a male rather than a female? Is it poor rather than rich? Is it a Millennial rather than a Gen-X’er or Baby Boomer? Is it a certain skin color, perhaps?

Ms. Perrino is white, middle class, Baby Boomer and female. She fits no popular assumptions yet she is still a crook. Is it possible that no one ever taught her right from wrong; not as a child, not as an adult?

The point is that bad ethics are bad ethics. We, all of us, have the potential to be ethical or unethical however, it is up to each one of us to decide which way we want to go.

Most people, presumably have a sense of good ethics, but sometimes it must be reinforced. Ms. Perrino obviously felt justified in her behavior, but the justification was contrived. She twisted her behavior into a world of entitlement. Ethical training of some kind might have dissuaded her from her actions.

As she started to steal, her lack of ethical training only reinforced itself to the point where every mortgage payment she gave herself and every luxury item with which she indulged herself became a benefit she felt she deserved. She became buried in justifications.

To allow a part-time employee with no ethical grounding to have access to checking accounts may be the recipe for disaster. No matter the outcome of this case, for all of her justifications, Ms. Perrino will have plenty of time behind bars to reflect on her unethical life.

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Posted by Chuck Gallagher in ethics and tagged , , , .

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