Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
At last, a true crime episode
At last, my own industry has had its big crime moment.
Last Thursday fraudster Helen Rosamond, whose event management outfit Human Group siphoned $19M out of National Australia Bank, was put away for fifteen years.
Her invoice-approval buddy Rosemary Rogers got an 8-year sentence in 2021. Rogers was the NAB CEO’s executive assistant, then chief of staff under the next CEO. The duo scammed enough to buy millions of dollars in house renovations, cars, luxury holidays, and my favourite line item: $39,700 of garden umbrellas.
Perhaps not enough material for an Underbelly: Bank Teambuilding Weekend TV series, but still, enough for an interesting window into the white-collar criminal mind. This yarn has been on the blog radar for a while, courtesy of James and Bradley*, some industry friends who had Human Group as a client.
“Hundreds of cases of Bollinger in the garage”
James and Bradley are very straight operators, and said they were never asked to do anything remotely suss. It just felt like any other client. No invoice fiddles, cash payments, backhanders or other stuff we’ll get to shortly. Just lots of work at reasonable prices. The only noteworthy item was that Rosamond did seem rich.
“We’re not up on fashion details,” said Bradley. “Then the event stylist told us she (Rosamond) was wearing a $70K outfit and handbag combo that day. And a different one the next.”
Not a crime in itself. I know a few event managers who are independently wealthy and do the job because they like it.
The activity ramped up. Our interstate offices did some of the overflow events when Bradley and James were at capacity. It was all just regular work.
Toward the end of the caper, Bradley was invited to a supplier party at Rosamond’s harbour-view house. It had an elevator and a tanning salon. She took him into the garage to show him the cars. Which were impressive, but more noteworthy was the epic reserves of Bollinger.
“Hundreds of cases,” he said.
Shortly after that, the wheels came off. After Rogers went on leave from NAB, budgets suddenly became tight. Details of invoices were queried. The work stopped, and after a while, police came round to James and Bradley’s office. They were friendly, “just ticking boxes”, and found nothing untoward.
Being a criminal seems really tiresome
The inability to go on leave is just one of the tiresome things about white-collar criminal life. I’d always been told banks had rules about compulsory regular leave, because that’s when dodginess comes to light. Not here, apparently.
I often think about what a hassle it would be to be a criminal, and the long-term ROI on that lifestyle. Is it worth the effort and stress?
To be a high-performing career criminal, you must make no mistakes.
You’d have to remember so much detail about your made-up cover stories.
I can’t even remember what city I was in last week. Legitimate expense tracking is a nightmare despite all the handy apps.
Imagine trying to not slip up on a single falsified transaction, every day, forever. Knowing that experts can go through all your transactions at any time. Possibly now with AI tools calibrated on the world’s best fraudsters.
Unless you’re a forensic accountant yourself, how would you sleep at night?
Obviously by being a massive narcissist who believes they can get away with crimes forever, and believing nobody will notice your insane collection of expensive, showy shit on a regular salary.
You or I would be watching every unknown car that pulls up outside the office and thinking: is that the cops? You’d look at your children each night and wonder how they’ll get by while you’re serving ten to fifteen. These are thoughts that would take the fizz out of my Bollinger.
Good to see some proper jail time
I’ve … uh … become aware of quite a few of these situations over the years.
Human Group is far from the first to charge a personal luxury lifestyle to client event budgets.
Though they were certainly the biggest. The conviction was for stealing $19M, but multiple sources suggest the real figure was north of $60M. There was a diminishing return on investigating all of it.
I’m pleased to see some proper jail time handed down here, because the usual approach is “pay the money back and we’ll say no more, none of us want this bad publicity.” The company looks like a clown show for letting it happen, so they don’t want the story out there.
The whole clubby “people like us” system sustains itself.
You don’t need me to tell you not to commit brazen crimes that’ll appear in national media. Yet there is sketchy behaviour on the fringes of so many business transactions.
Plenty of buyers would like to know what’s in it for them, personally. It starts with dinner or free tickets to that show they like. And on many levels it’s just good manners to show some gratitude. Then it escalates.
The suitcase of cash
I know someone who, in an account manager role, had to deliver a suitcase containing $200,000 in cash to the event managers of an international multilevel marketing group. He dropped it off at their hotel like a caricature movie bagman.
Then they insisted he take them to one of Sydney’s most renowned brothels. He declined all offers for him to join in, and waited patiently in reception drinking a nice cup of tea. You won’t find that in your sales manual.
Dodgy as fuck? Yes. Yet, you can see how it rolled out.
The project in question was worth several million dollars. Hundreds of hours and tens of thousands had been spent winning the deal before the cash request came up.
The client came from a country where the cash briefcase is a standard term of business, no more remarkable than paying sales tax here. Losing that work to a competitor would have been a savage bite out of the bottom line, and heavy questions would have been asked at board level. If they’d said no, would another competitor have stepped in with the cash?
Blowing the whistle in these situations takes some serious bravery.
“What’s your cash contribution 🧐”
You’d be amazed the places you find this sort of grift.
When major tenders roll out in our industry, there’s one procurement consultant who’s often on the other side of the table. He’s one of those no-socks, Rolex guys. The tenders are often for semi- or fully-government contracts, where you assume all governance will be squeaky-clean.
He goes through several rounds of squeezing supplier discounts down to absolute bottom dollar.
Then, he’ll ask: what’s your cash contribution?
What’s the right call here? This was a request from a formally-sanctioned representative. So you presume it’s within someone’s rules, yet it has a powerful fish smell. Most tenderers pull out at this point because it makes the project unviable, but there’s always at least one willing to step up.
“Just help us with the timing”
Most of these crime capers depend on a continuous group of conspirators. You can’t rely on that.
Another event management company did years of quality, high-spend work for their biggest client, a global IT brand. Then the client asked for a bit of help with budget timing. He had unspent budget left in the financial year about to end, and next year’s budgets were looking thin.
Could they invoice him for something this year, then apply it to next year’s projects?
They said yes, because they saw it as a reasonable workaround to help next year’s events. Nobody was being charged extra for anything. As scams go, this one was pretty low key.
Then a new manager came in at the IT brand, found out about it, and blacklisted all that guy’s suppliers. It was a near-fatal blow for the event management company.
Sometimes the easy shortcut works.
And sometimes it turns around to bite you on the arse in ways you never saw coming but maybe should have.
What would Ben Roberts-Smith not do?
I’ve written this before, last year re: war crimes enthusiast Ben Roberts-Smith.
If you’re not sure if you should do something, ask yourself:
How would this look if it was written down and published? Or if you had to explain it aloud to a room full of people who are not your usual circle of friends?
If things turn ugly, as they can, could you honestly say: hey, I made what I thought was the right call at the time, we all make mistakes.
Or would you have to leave town and go into witness protection because it looks so bad for you?
Unless you were missing the entire remorse part of your brain.
Until next week, law-abiding business citizens.
*James and Bradley are not their real names
PS Human Group still has a LinkedIn page, why not chuck them a morbid follow? Every line in their pitch is now unintentionally hilarious – “By understanding the needs and desires of an Executive / VIP … “ oh I’ll bet you do.
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