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Authors: Joanne Fox Phillips

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BOOK: Revenge of the Cube Dweller
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“Yes, Frank.” There is nothing quite as irritating as being spoken to like a child by a thirty-year-old twit. “I read the e-mail, but thank you for reminding me.”

“I have a vendor setup test for you to do, since you were pulled from the office security review.”

Thanks for reminding me
.

“Take a look,” he continues, “and let me know if you have any questions or need some help getting started.”

I take the audit program and give it a quick read. Obviously I cannot be relied on to exercise prudent judgment, so Frank is making sure I know exactly what to do this time by writing it all out. Still, not wanting to repeat my previous
mistake
, I read it three times over before leaving Frank’s office. I need to select twenty new vendor setups and make sure they have been properly approved. Easy enough.

In a large company, vendors are set up in the system so they can be automatically paid when an invoice comes in. One of the oldest fraud schemes around is to enter a fictitious vendor into the system and then send in phony invoices, which get paid automatically to the fraudster.

“Frank, I notice that you only want me to check that the vendor information was approved prior to setup. Did you want me
to validate the vendors through Dun & Bradstreet? Also, should I look at changes to remittance addresses or wire instructions, or just new vendors? I did this sort of testing such a long time ago … and it is very confusing. I just want to make sure I don’t leave something out.”

Frank looks at me, irritated. “Let me noodle on that, Tanzie. Just do the testing as written for now, and I’ll get back to you.”

“Will do.” I make a quick exit, rolling my eyes once my back is turned.

Back at my desk, I get busy organizing the list of data I will need to request for Frank’s test. I pick up the phone and dial one of the very few work numbers that is worth memorizing.

“Help Desk. This is Todd.”

“Hi Todd, it’s Tanzie. Can you send me a data dump of all the new vendors set up in the Master File since the beginning of the year to today?”

“Sure thing. I’ll put a ticket in for you. Now, I can’t pull just new vendors, so the dump will include all changes to the Master File. To get just the new vendors, you’ll have to do a pivot or write a macro to pull just the additions.”

“No problem,” I say, “I’ve been schooled by the master.”

Todd laughs. “Right.” Todd graduated in 2008 with an information systems degree and had been recruited for a job at the IT Help Desk. I have a standing date to treat Todd to coffee on Wednesdays in exchange for his tutoring me on my woefully ancient IT skills. Todd has demonstrated extraordinary patience in walking me through the complexities of writing Excel macros and creating pivot tables so that I can play catch-up with the rest of the team. After four months of working with Todd, I have surpassed the skill sets of Hal, Frank, and Moe combined and
become the go-to gal when some complex schedule or document is necessary.

I occasionally bake cupcakes and other treats and leave them for Todd and the other young men in the technology group. They are especially grateful and as a result give preference to my requests over all others.

“When do you need this by?” he asks me now.

“How soon can I get it?”

“It shouldn’t take long,” he says. “I can have it ready for you in a few minutes or so. Tanzie, you’re from Houston, right? I was thinking of you when I heard the news. Did you know any of the people hurt this morning?”

Finally, someone is looking beyond himself.

“I don’t think so, Todd, but thanks for asking.”

“Let me know if you need anything else.”

I hang up the phone feeling the first bit of calmness since turning on the TV this morning.

Shortly, a ping on my email indicates that, as promised, my request has been granted quickly, and I download the Excel file to take a look. Todd is right—the file is huge. There are twenty-nine column headings that include all sorts of vendor information, names, reference numbers, and tax IDs, as well as banking and wire instructions. This many rows of changes—7,223 rows, to be exact—exceeds my ability to make any sense of the data or even make a selection for Frank’s test, so I start to put a macro together that will identify only the new vendors. Still, I am surprised to see so many changes in a four-month window.

Bishop is huge, but this is more activity than seems possible. My curiosity piqued, I start filtering and making pivot tables to analyze the file. Most of the changes have been made to the
remittance address, and I filter those to understand why the volume is so high. What’s really strange is that many of these changes involve the same three vendors, and the addresses have been changed several times a week.

The vendors are AT&T, Grainger (a tool company used by the field locations), and Oklahoma Power, which is the utility provider not just for our office but also for all the plants and field offices in Oklahoma. The other strange thing about the activity is that the addresses have not been changed permanently; instead, the same two addresses have just been switched back and forth. Further, the changes have all been made under the same user ID: MCALDWELL. Mazie Caldwell—the lady with the really nice Mercedes whom I’d just met in the parking lot.
Classic
, I think.
Remittance information for vendors often changes, but not weekly and not back and forth. This is definitely a red flag noting suspicious activity
.

“Hi, Todd, it’s me again. Can I get a data dump of all payments made to vendors set up by user name MCALDWELL since inception? That should be about five years. There are some cupcakes in it for you and the gang if you can get that out to me by lunch.”

“In that case, you can have it there in about five minutes. Make them with that chocolate icing, please—mmmmmmmm.”

“Deal! Thanks again, Todd—you’re the best!”

My review of the payment information confirms my suspicions. Starting about four years ago, judging by the data I’m looking at, Mazie has stolen roughly $250K from Bishop. Not a huge
sum, and no individual transaction is over $500. It has been just enough to pad her meager salary, buy a sexy sports car, and stay under the radar. I wonder how much more she needs before she can start going to a hair salon and upgrade her wardrobe, but maybe that is intentional, part of her disguise.

I look up some of the invoices in our electronic storage, and it is easy to figure out how she did it. With the help of software, Mazie created realistic invoices on which she forged approval signatures. She most likely had plenty of examples of what the signatures were supposed to look like, since the vendor setup forms must have come to her.

After she forged the approval, she coded the invoices to different cost centers so as not to overly burden any one in particular. No manager is going to take the time to chase down a $500 utility charge, and no accounts payable clerk bothers to scrutinize such familiar vendors. She probably came in early to put her invoices into the Cash Disbursement department basket, then changed the payment instructions in the system to her own bank account.

After the checks processed, she changed the remittance address back to the proper one so AT&T never needed to inquire about a missed payment. This cycle continued week after week, and as far as I can tell, no one but me has any idea it is going on. The fraud is a fairly common type, and all auditors worth their salt could recognize the scheme if they looked at the activity for existing vendors—which any competently designed test would have required.

Yet the program Frank designed only reviews new vendors and not the changes to existing ones, so doing the test as instructed would not reveal this particular fraud. And Frank was
noncommittal when I asked him about doing the extra testing that has revealed it.

So should I mention it to Frank or not? After Monday’s meeting, I am feeling a little gun-shy as far as my professional judgment is concerned. Nonetheless, I recall hearing once that curiosity is one of the most valuable traits in an auditor, and I definitely have that trait in spades.

Just to be sure, I conduct the test as instructed, with just the new vendors, and save the work papers and the shared drive file. Test complete with no exceptions noted.

Now I need to give some thought about the best way to inform Frank of my findings. I imagine a few scenarios. “Gee, Frank,” I could simper, “I’m confused about the activity in the vendor account. It seems awfully high to me. What do you think I should do?” Or I could call in an anonymous tip, or I could write a letter to the Chief Compliance Officer. I elect to do none of those things. After all, fraud is fraud, and it is my job to bring such matters to my team. It is unthinkable that they would be against this in the same way they were against my charming my way onto the executive floor.

There is a big difference between expanding an audit test where there are clear indications of accounts payable fraud, and snooping in the executive medicine cabinet. There is absolutely no embarrassment for the department with the former. Plus, uncovering fraud makes internal auditors seem valuable to outsiders. If I go to Frank and expose Mazie’s fraud, he, as someone who supervises me and my work, will share in the accolades from Hal and his supervisors.

Perhaps my discovery will put me back in his good graces, and I will be recognized after all and have some hope of upward
mobility. Yes, this is my redeeming moment, I decide. This will erase yesterday’s debacle and not just restore but also enhance my value to the team. I envision Hal and Frank beaming, Moe and Frank arguing about who gets to use me on their assignments, and Hal settling it all by giving me my own audits. “Tanzie, let’s see what you can do with trading derivatives.”

I am having trouble containing myself, but then I see the three of them returning, toothpicks busily dislodging bits of lunch from their teeth as they walk right by me and close Hal’s door behind them.

While the three of them are meeting, I take the opportunity to pay a visit to my new parking lot friend, who according to the company directory has an office on the ninth floor. I don’t want to confront her, just see where she sits and get a feel for her surroundings. I walk around the ninth floor and finally spy her nameplate outside an interior cube.

She is not at her desk when I poke my head inside her area. Her cube is fairly standard, with a wire basket for incoming requests just to the right of her computer monitor. There are magnetic crosses affixed to the cabinet doors above her workstation and a framed award from her church for her tireless efforts for the annual spring fundraiser, from which, I have no doubt, she skimmed some of the proceeds. I do wonder if she tithes the standard 10 percent of her takings.

Mazie must still be at lunch because her computer screen saver is on, indicating she’s been gone awhile. Three toddlers, dressed alike, stare up at me.
Must be her grandchildren
, I think.
I wonder if I would be a grandmother by now, if Winston and I had decided to have kids
.

When we first discussed marriage, I wanted a large family and
was disappointed that Winston did not.
Big money would have made child rearing much easier than it had been for my parents
, I think. Winston wanted no children, pointing out that he traveled frequently and didn’t feel as though he would make a good father, being so obsessed with succeeding in business.

Winston had been an only child, and although he had liked my siblings and all the little nieces and nephews, he had absolutely no desire to complicate his life with his own offspring. In the negotiations on the question of kids, I had caved and had justified the decision by taking great vacations and accompanying Winston on his frequent trips to New York and London.

As the years went by, his invitations for my companionship had grown more infrequent, so I had filled the gap by perfecting my golf game and spending time at our club. Our dog, a black Labrador retriever we named Rocky, had become the focus of our parental inclinations. We had become one of
those
couples, with pets instead of children.

My God, I am old
, I’m thinking as I look at Mazie’s grandbabies, as they are often referred to in Oklahoma. I decide to leave before more depressing thoughts enter my brain, and I head back to my floor. I take the stairs rather than the elevator this time.

I’m fat, old, and out of shape
, I think as I march down the stairs to my cube on six.
I need to start exercising and get a facelift
. These same thoughts had consumed me in the months after my divorce. It is so like women to blame themselves for the despicable behavior of their men. If only I had kept myself up, if only I was better at whatever … For me, those thoughts quickly gave way to placing the blame squarely where it belonged, especially when I recalled the last time I saw Winston.

I remember being in my lawyer Stu Van Dyke’s office for about the sixth or seventh settlement discussion.

“This valuation is bullshit and you know it, Winston.” I looked across the table as my husband and his lawyer Rick exchanged “not this again” looks.

“And what about our working interest in those wells in North Dakota? And the deferred comp plan? Your compensation is a matter of public record. I have the proxy right here in my purse.” I got up to leave. My lawyer stayed seated, intimidated for the moment by my ability to find what he had not. “This is so ridiculous,” I continued as I walked to the door. “I do our tax return, remember?” It had occurred to me early into the divorce proceedings that divorce lawyers are not financial experts, and my background was actually stronger at the nuts and bolts of transactions than Winston’s or either of our attorneys’. Despite his Rice MBA, Winston resided in the world of structured deals and high finance rather than the transactional minutia in which I, as a CPA, was an expert. Still, the mistakes I pointed out were too large to have been oversights.

“Please sit down, Mrs. Lewis. Please.” Rick stood up and gestured to my chair. “Give us a minute to get our ducks in a row here.”

“Look, Winston. Just play fair and we can get this over with. I don’t want the house! The yard! The putting green! The pool! How am I supposed to maintain all of that? I haven’t worked since Bush Senior was in office, for God’s sake.” I had known
women who had made that rookie mistake, opting to keep their stylish residences only to have to sell when they could not manage the upkeep on a barista’s minimum wage. “And you, sir,” I pointed at Rick, “have had ample time to align your ducks!”

“Stu, can you please try to get your client under control?” Rick appealed, lawyer to lawyer.

“Good luck,” Winston snickered as he leaned sideways in his chair so he could cross his legs. The bottom buttons of his shirt were straining to stay fastened as he unbuttoned his blazer. I could tell he was losing patience with the whole process. He glanced at his watch the way busy people do when they are looking at a packed schedule.

“Can we please move this along?” Winston said, taking the reins. “What is it you want, Tanzie? There might be some errors in the documents, just tell us what’s missing and we’ll fix it. No one’s trying to cheat you. Honestly.”

“Forgive me if I don’t believe these are honest mistakes. You haven’t been honest with me about a lot of things—”

“Here we go again,” Winston interrupted. “You had it pretty good, Tanzie—golf, shopping, travel. You’ll wind up with a decent settlement and I have no doubt you’ll find some sort of job. You’re a CPA; the judge agreed you wouldn’t require spousal support after the divorce is final.”

“My license isn’t current, Winston. You know that.”

“Mrs. Lewis. Mrs. Lewis. Please. We’re getting off
track.” Stu tapped the tip of his pen on the table to get my attention. “Let’s get back to the settlement offer.”

“What offer? This is incomplete. I won’t agree to this.” I shoved the paper across to Rick and Winston’s side of the table. “I have no job and this man wants me to take the house and all that upkeep? He conveniently leaves out assets. Why am I the bad guy here?
You
left
me
, Winston.” I tried to hold back the tears but my eyes watered up anyway.

“Don’t make me feel guilty about wanting something more in my life,” he grumbled. I watched as he grabbed the flab under his chin; a habit he had when he became irritated.

Of course not, Winston, we wouldn’t want
you
to feel guilty
. I stared at the balding toad across the table and marveled at his gall. I sat back down and took the proxy out of my purse, pretending to reconcile the compensation information to what was on Rick’s settlement offer. My mind was in another place, though, and I rested my forehead on my hand as I looked down at the documents and then up at Winston, wondering why my life was falling apart.

I thought back to when we first met, when he was the CFO for a client of mine in the early ’80s. Winston was very handsome back then, and I fell very hard very quickly. He was charmed by my bohemian upbringing on the West Coast and my eccentric family. Winston had grown up with strict boundaries in a disciplined WASP home, and I suppose he felt a bit of liberation hanging around the O’Learys. I would never forget
our first trip to San Francisco while we were dating. He was sitting at the Formica kitchen table when one of my sisters, Bumby, I think, handed him a baby to hold while she tended to some other task. I don’t think Winston had ever held a child before. Baby Molly unexpectedly reached up and hit Winston’s arm, sending a nearly full glass of red wine flying across the kitchen.

Now if that had happened in Winston’s family, there would have been an immediate damage assessment and discussion about who was to blame for the accident. In mine, however, my mother called out, “Tanzie, get this boy some more wine! His glass is empty.” The horrified look on Winston’s face dissolved into laughter. The O’Leary home must have been a welcome relief from the stress Winston was used to. No judgments. Just acceptance. I think Winston was drawn to that at that time of his life. By the end of the evening he was singing “Goodnight, Irene” with Bumby’s husband Shamus. He proposed to me on the flight back to Houston.

“I want it all liquidated.” I looked up at Winston. “We’ll split it all down the middle. We can divvy up the securities to save on taxes, but the house, the place in Santa Fe, and the condo in Cayman and all the contents, I want sold. I’m not going to burn up money maintaining those properties in a down market. Who knows when this recession will turn around?”

“That’s shortsighted, Tanzie. Selling in this market is lunacy; everything’s under water!” Winston
shouted. This was unusual for him, and I knew I had his attention.

“You asked me what I wanted and that’s what I want.”

Winston collected himself and raised his eyebrows while he shook his head. Silence and then more silence while he stared at the table in disbelief. He then raised his head. “Do it, Rick. Just do it.”

Now Winston was the one getting up to leave.

“Just one more thing, Mr. Lewis,” Stu said. “We haven’t agreed on who should take the dog, Rocky.”

Winston and I looked at each other. “He’s my dog, Tanzie. You gave him to me for Christmas. Doesn’t that mean he’s mine?” Winston looked at Rick and then Stu.

“I suppose so, Mr. Lewis,” Stu answered. “It would appear that the dog would be considered your separate property, but my understanding is that he is currently living with Mrs. Lewis.”

“Well, he can continue to until the house sells, and then he’ll come with me. No sense making him live in an apartment downtown.”

“Winston, can’t we share him? He spends more time with me … I trained him. You can take him hunting, but—”

“I’ve had enough for one day! You’re selling our assets in the worst market since ’29. A ridiculous move, in my opinion. Rocky is my dog. End of story, Tanzie.”

Winston made his exit, and Rick gathered his papers
and hurried after him. I heard the elevator ding and stared at Stu, who was making himself look useful by poring over the proxy statement he had no ability to comprehend. Winston was right about selling in a down market, but it was the only way I had left to hurt him. I was the suicide bomber of our combined wealth. I took a cigarette out of my purse and began to light up.

“Mrs. Lewis, I’m afraid there’s no smoking allowed.”

I took a drag and stubbed it out on the settlement folder left behind by Rick. I gathered my things and left without another word.

BOOK: Revenge of the Cube Dweller
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