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Recently, we had the unique opportunity to speak with Kelly Richmond Pope and Tom Golden, the film-makers who are currently hard at work developing content for a ground-breaking documentary that will focus on the case of the United States v. Rita A. Crundwell.
Crundwell, the 58-year-old comptroller for the City of Dixon, Illinois, was arrested in April 2012 on federal charges of allegedly defrauding the City of Dixon of more than $30 million dollars, that reportedly went towards funding her very successful Quarter Horse operation.
A few months later, the amount was raised to an estimated $53 million. The U.S. Marshals Service is now in the process of determining which auction company will receive the award to sell Crundwell’s more than 400 horses, unborn foals, frozen semen, and other equine-related items, according to a judge’s motion that was approved in June.
Although the outcome of the case is still pending, Pope and Golden thought the time was right to begin taping interviews and conducting preliminary research for their Crundwell documentary, which they hope will be ready for national distribution by January of 2013.
Get To Know the Film-makers
Kelly Richmond Pope is an associate professor at the School of Accountancy and MIS at the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University in Chicago. Tom Golden is a retired partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he ran operations in the Chicago Investigation and Forensic Services Practice.
Pope and Golden have known each other for about ten years. They first met when Golden was an adjunct professor at DePaul, where he taught the university’s first forensic accounting course.
The answers to the following questions were provided by both Pope and Golden during an exclusive EC.com interview.
Question: How did you come up with the idea to produce a documentary about the Crundwell case?
Answer: “This was actually Kelly’s idea. She recently completed her first documentary on white-collar crime entitled “Crossing the Line: Ordinary People Committing Extraordinary Crimes.” When she read of the Crundwell case, she called Tom. What excited Tom about this case was his passion for spectacular white-collar crimes and another opportunity to explore the root causes of fraud, while the public is watching and may be paying attention.”
“While Tom made a living at conducting large-scale investigations all over the world, among his gravest disappointments were those frauds committed by [those] such as Rita Crundwell against charities and other non-profits like the City of Dixon. Few know what Tom has seen in this arena, which is this sad fact. Most such crimes never are publicized, because they are embarrassing to the organization’s leaders, including its board directors, as well as the fact that such negative publicity would thwart a charity’s [future] fundraising efforts.”
“So, what typically happened is that the [individual] brings their lawyer to the negotiation table, a non-disclosure termination letter is affected, and they exit. And here’s the worst part….they con their way into another charity and set up their fraud all over again. The benefit of the Crundwell case is that it [is receiving] national coverage, and with that comes the opportunity for Kelly and Tom to use this case to highlight the root causes of fraud, which revolve around people’s willingness to trust [people] like Crundwell to such an extent that they relax or ignore all the controls that accounting experts have put in place. And then….it happens all over again. This is also another opportunity to dispel other commonly held beliefs like ‘the auditor will find fraud if it exists,’ or ‘dual-signatures on checks will deter fraud.’”
Question: What types of footage will be included within the documentary? Will there be court footage, interviews with Dixon citizens, or interviews with Crundwell’s business associates in the horse industry?
Answer: “Yes to most and much more. The Feds do not allow video or audio taping in their courtrooms. We plan to cover the financial aspects of this crime, but also delve into the Quarter Horse industry to see how it has been affected by this fraud. Additionally, we want to explore the two questions that most are asking: Who was Rita Crundwell, and how could she have stolen from those in her own community for 20 years? How could she have possibly rationalized this?”
“Obviously, the best source for this would be Crundwell, and it would be great to have the opportunity to interview her, but she probably won’t be talking for at least two to three years. Until that day comes, we’ll have to talk with those who knew her, her classmates, her teachers, her colleagues, and of course those with whom she did business.”
Question: Have you begun work yet on the documentary?
Answer: “We began filming at Crundwell’s arraignment hearing and are close to finishing a preliminary outline of the story we want to tell. The advantage that Kelly and Tom have is that they know this stuff inside and out. Tom got involved in this fraud when he wrote an email to a reporter correcting all the bad ideas that were flowing into the public domain as a result of well-meaning folks who have no clue how this could happen or how it could be detected or deterred in the future. It’s time to tell the right story about white-collar crime.”
Question: Although it might determine on the length of the actual court case, how long do you expect it will take to film the documentary?
Answer: “When an editor from John Wiley asked Tom how long it would take him to write his book, ‘A Guide to Forensic Accounting Investigation,’ he told him a year. Three and a half years later, Tom delivered it. But fortunately, Kelly has been granted a research leave from DePaul, and Tom is retired. We plan to have the film to our editor by fall and ready for distribution by Jan 2013.”
Question: Do you have anyone working with you as far as a production company?
Answer: “We are working with Rick Salisbury, video producer in the Driehaus College of Business, who is an award-winning film producer and editor. Post-production costs have not yet been budgeted, and it has not yet been determined if we will seek other investors. Either way, we intend to distribute not only the film, but other educational materials (e.g. case studies, instructional DVDs) to aid students of accounting and auditing and the not-for-profit community.”
Question: Do you expect this documentary will be more of a local production or available for national viewing?
Answer: “But of course it will be national! This is not only a national problem but international as well. Tom has conducted financial crime investigations on nearly every continent and has found one common thread between all of them. Whether rooting out the bad guys in Jakarta, Indonesia, or Dixon IL, the root cause of fraud is the same, misplaced trust. Someone misplaces their trust in someone else, a con, they relaxes common sense controls, and one day a lot of cash is gone and everyone is in shock, except the knowledgeable forensic accountant.”
“And the real irony in the Crundwell case is that all this ‘trust’ occurred in the city that boasts their favorite son, Ronald Reagan, to whom Tom properly attributed the title of one of his book’s subchapters ‘Trust but Verify.’ It was Reagan who popularized that phrase when negotiating the missile defense treaty with Gorbachev in the mid-eighties. City of Dixon officials would be wise to adopt this tried and true fraud deterrence mechanism in the future. Trust, yes, but only after sufficient verification applied on a test basis on everyone, from the mailroom to the boardroom. It’s their job!”