Expert: Rash of embezzlement cases may stem from 'me' society

Biloxi Sun HeraldSeptember 20, 2010 

A veritable parade of accused embezzlers has shuffled through the courtrooms of South Mississippi in recent months.

One crime involved women who, over a period of many years, siphoned millions from the bank accounts of trusting senior citizens. And hundreds of thousands of dollars have turned up missing from Jackson County coffers.

Embezzlers fit no specific profile, experts say, but the crime always flows from what they call the "fraud triangle" — opportunity, pressure and rationalization.

"If you have all these, you have the propensity for embezzlement," said Stephen Pedneault, owner of Forensic Accounting Services in Connecticut and a forensic accountant for the past 23 years. The pressure can be from unpaid bills or, more likely, a sense of entitlement many Americans seem to feel more acutely as conspicuous consumption pervades our culture.

“I would put the Big E before anything else,” Pedneault said. “They want the bigger house, they want the better vacations, they want the better lifestyle. They all think they’ll never get caught. They all think they’re smarter.

“‘A day’s pay for a hard day’s work’ — that doesn’t mean anything anymore. People are out to get what they can. I see it all the time. It’s a me society: ‘I’m going to get what’s due me.’ At what cost?”

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