Michael Meakem will have his defenders. In fact, one of Meakem’s friends, in pleading for leniency of the judge wrote:
“Mike has dedicated his professional career to educating the banking industry on all things banking, including internal controls and fraud, so I know he knew what he was doing was wrong and he also knew the risks involved.”
Throwing the Flag
Before going any further, I want to state that as the president of Virtual Training Associates, an organization that educates organizations on ethical behavior and – as someone who, now more than 25 years ago, was jailed for fraud for a period of 18 months, it is hard for me to shed tears for this man. While I wish him well on his road and hope he is given a second chance in life, I don’t believe he had any clue as to the consequences of his choices. He placed himself above the law and got burned for his arrogance.
In terms of the details, per an article written by Edmund H. Mahony for the Hartford Courant, Meakem was “The $194,000-a-year president of a non-profit business training program that taught bankers how to combat fraud was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday for embezzling almost $700,000 and spending it on casinos, cruises and alimony payments to three ex-wives.”
I find it the height of hypocrisy that a man who represented himself as the CEO of an organization called the Center for Financial Training, which taught financial institutions virtually and in-person about fraud, was motivated by his own personal need for money and power.
In a court filing by assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan N. Francis it was noted that:
“Specifically, between June 2013 and February 2020, Meakem stole approximately $683,202.09 from CFT’s credit card accounts and bank accounts by writing checks to himself, taking cash advances, making alimony payments, and paying for personal expenses, including meals, trips to casinos, cruises, and vacations.”
Meakem rationalized more than 4,000 illegal transactions. He defended his acts using the fallback positions of a “dysfunctional childhood and a succession of bad marriages.”
Apparently, he was also abusing drugs and alcohol and a powerful sedative. It seems the most powerful drug he was on was the drug of excuses.
The Court Filing
I must agree with the court filing which has stated, in part:
“There was nothing impulsive or spontaneous about this crime. Unlike some embezzlers, Meakem cannot claim that financial distress drove him into an otherwise uncharacteristic desperate act… Meakem was able to accumulate more than $900,000 in retirement savings…”
Meakem was draining the nonprofit while lining his own pockets. The acts were a series of conscious choices. I can just imagine him berating low-level bank employees about ethics, while at the same time he was dining on expensive meals and gambling at casinos on the company’s money.
Though he has repaid close to $130,000 working as an Uber driver, which he claims as therapeutic (on what basis, that he is a “common man?”), his lawyer is still covering for him by detailing how many hours he has worked, and how many trips he has driven. Who cares? I don’t.
Meakem still acts as though he is a victim. He isn’t. As someone who teaches organizations, including many financial institutions about ethical behavior, I take exception to victimhood of this nature.
Whether he serves the full two years or not, whether he is required to repay every penny of the stolen $700,000 plus fines, or not, unless he owns up to his own choices, it is a rather self-indulgent exercise.
Naturally, the organization that paid him handsomely, the Center for Financial Training, has suffered immeasurable damage. Though I “compete against them” in some ways, I take absolutely no pleasure in what they are going through. There is enough business to go around and I am sure they are well intended. It leads us to examine the “how” of it all.
The Center for Financial Training could have stopped Meakem early on had there been rigorous oversite. It is not “easy” to steal $700,000 if someone is looking. It is not easy to rationalize his behavior is those who should be listening were listening.
Fraud, whether perpetrated by an ethics trainer or an Uber driver is still fraud. At some point – and without excuses or conditions, it is up to the person committing the crime to admit it and take the punishment. Until that is done, nothing is learned or resolved.
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