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Hello, and welcome to the Marcus Williams Training Academy podcast where we talk about all things misconduct. Today our episode is going to be a segment I call "Misconduct Myths." So I want to talk about the myth that people believe that if they do their due diligence, if they're careful enough in their hiring, then they will never have to deal with misconduct, that they can prevent misconduct by hiring good people or the right people.
Now no matter what business you're in, you want to hire the right people. You want to hire good people. That's true for anyone, so that's not unique. The problem is when you delude yourself or kid yourself into thinking that by doing that you'll ever have any problems, that you'll never have any misconduct. So I see that frequently in tight communities, especially communities where a lot of people go to the same church or well, there's only one school, where they really know each other really well and they have the same values in the community. And so they believe that everyone in the community is going to live the same or make the same value-based decisions that they would and that they (your employees) have the best interests of the business as a motivator for doing the right thing. That they care much about, care as much about the business as you do as the owners.
And that is a myth. That's simply not true. Human beings are human beings no matter where you are, no matter what community you live in, no matter what kind of value system. It doesn't matter if you go to the same church together, if you're you are in the same club together, if you have the same hobby, if you play golf together. None of that matters. Everyone has the agency to make personal decisions and everyone has motivations and background and reasons why they make the decisions they do.
And so you can't prevent misconduct solely through good hiring. So am I saying you shouldn't bother about background checks and you should shouldn't get references and you shouldn't care about that? Of course not! That would be ridiculous. You do need to do your due diligence because you are going to weed out some of the most more obvious the more egregious, the highest risk basically. That is an exercise in risk management. You are lowering the risk of having to deal with misconduct. But you are not getting rid of it.
So I want to give some examples from my own career. I was a Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. And I was with them for, it was around 16 years. In order to get hired by NCIS you have to go through a very rigorous background check, not just for the hiring part but you have to carry a security clearance so in order to get a top-top secret security clearance there is even a more in-depth process to your background check.
So let me give you an example. You have to fill out its like 50 pages on your background, everything. You have to go back 10 years of places that you lived. Now imagine someone who is recently out of college trying to apply for NCIS. You have to put every single apartment that you lived in during your university years. A lot of people move apartments every semester or every school year. So not only do you have to list (remember) every single apartment, you have to have the information for the landowner, the property management company, and you have to list at least two people who knew you when you lived there.
Now let's go with that college example. Your apartments might be two blocks away and you hung out with the same group of friends no matter-even though you moved, but you have to come up with two unique people for each location. You can't use the same people twice. So you do all that. It takes a lot of time going back trying to contact people, get permission to put their phone number and address down. And those people have all graduated so they've all spread to the winds. They're all over the United States. Very few people stayed in the college town. And then the agency, NCIS had to go out and do the background investigation. They actually talked to those people. It wasn't just an exercise in proving you could do it. They actually followed through and talked to those people. And I did that as an agent. It was one of the cases that no agent liked to do, but as an agent it was important. And I was sent to places where-where I had to go on a work trip just to talk to someone whether it was Montana or Alaska or Nevada, places we didn't even have offices. We still had to go and do our due diligence and talk to those people.
Now when you're filling out a form like that, you're only going to put people that like you, people that are going to say nice things about you obviously. So the background investigator's job is to not only interview those people but then to develop new people. Who else could we talk to? They knock on the doors of neighbors and say hey do you remember eight years ago this person lived next door to you? What kind of neighbor was he or she? Did they have a problem with anyone in the neighborhood? Do you know were there any problems or fights with anyone here? Can we talk to that person? And you-you are supposed to develop further leads. So it turns into a pretty intense background. There really is no other company in the world that goes out and talks to your next-door neighbor from 10 years ago to talk about whether or not you cleaned up after your dog on their lawn when you were their neighbor.
So you go through all that process. It took me 18 months from the time I applied to the time I actually started with NCIS and that was because of the background investigation.
So that's a pretty great example of an organization doing everything in their power to only hire people who are going to make good decisions. To reduce the risk of misconduct down as far as possible you can't get a better example than that. So does it work? For the most part most agents are were good people and made good decisions and had integrity and honesty, but no, it was not a foolproof method of preventing misconduct.
So I want to share a couple examples with you. When you start with NCIS you go through an academy and it is a very long academy. It was about four months. It's residential. You actually live at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco or Brunswick, Georgia. That's in southeast Georgia. And you go through all sorts of training. So in my training academy class there was a man named John Beliveau and John, from what I remember, his previous career was with the state. He was in law enforcement I believe with (may have been Pennsylvania) with their environmental, their version of the EPA. I didn't know John really well, but he was in my class. We did a lot of things together. He just wasn't in the, we were divided up into sections as well and he wasn't in my section because my last name starts with a W, he starts with a B. But I knew him socially and I was with him every single day for four months. He seemed like a pretty good guy.
He was stationed in San Diego as his first office. I was in Twentynine Palms, California. So we didn't really see each other - different field offices. I think maybe we had one meeting once where both field offices met together and we said Hi. I don't even remember if we-we went out to lunch, a bunch of us, and I don't even remember if John went. But anyway, he had a great career. He was doing really well. In fact at one point he was the NCIS "Agent of the Year." You're nominated based on the work you've done; usually you had a big case that you worked and solved. So he was having a good career.
He was transferred to Singapore. As part of NCIS, we have offices where there's a naval base or a Marine Corps base, um not only in the United States but around the world. So there is a navy base in Singapore. It's very small. So he was stationed there and he was working counter-terrorism. So while there he had a lot of issues. So I'm referring to the Washington Post story from October 14, 2016 regarding this case. So in the story it says that John had struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder his whole life. Now I don't know if he disclosed that on his background or if that came up as part of his background. I don't know that. I don't have access to that. But it's possible he tried to hide that. That would not have been necessarily something that would've kept him from getting the job, but just a note.
So when he arrived in Singapore he was diagnosed with cancer and he went through cancer treatments. And then he had to visit, um you visit countries where Navy ships are going to go to do force protection, counterterrorism. And he went to East Timor and there he contracted dengue fever. So on top of the cancer treatments he has dengue fever, so not having a good time in Singapore obviously. And then according to the article he developed post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, after what they-they're saying a bizarre incident during which he witnessed up close the beheading of a gang member. I don't know any more details about that, but that's, that would be pretty traumatic. So I would agree with that.
So this is his defense saying hey he went through this really bad time. He was very vulnerable and there was this man called Leonard Glenn Francis and everyone called him Fat Leonard. And he was basically defrauding the United States Navy with contracts and had been for years. So he was charging the Navy way more money and he was doing that by wining and dining contract officers, senior officers in the Navy, basically you know gives them money and gifts so that they will sign on with his company and then he charges way too much.
So he saw the vulnerability in John and he started going after him and he started providing him with money, with prostitutes, with stays in high-priced hotels, and alcohol. And at that point those are all things that he shouldn't be doing as an NCIS Agent.
And there's this investigation into Fat Leonard and John knew about this investigation, but yet he has this relationship with him where he's receiving gifts. Big no no. You learn that right in the academy. You cannot accept gifts as a Special Agent. So Fat Leonard creates this relationship with John Beliveau and, according to the article and John's defense attorneys, John was susceptible to his charms because of his fondness for alcohol and a history of mental illness, and his lifelong lack of sexual experience with women other than prostitutes. Again, I don't know if that came up in the background investigation.
But anyway, John started giving Fat Leonard or Francis information. He knew there was an NCIS investigation, so John would pass along information from the investigation. Hey, if you want to avoid getting in trouble you need to get rid of this evidence or you shouldn't talk to this person because he's a mole or they're sending in someone with a wire to try to talk to you so don't say anything, that kind of thing.
And John knew what he was doing was wrong. He made a conscious decision to accept the gifts. Like I said, we were taught at the academy. He would have been taught when he was in law enforcement in Pennsylvania too that you can't accept bribes or gifts. You can't give information on an ongoing investigation to the suspect. I mean that's just common sense. So not only is it common sense, but it's drilled into you that is unethical. It is wrong. It is illegal. And we know that John knew what he was doing because he wrote an email to Francis in April 2012. He said, "I will always be your friend but you will get nothing else until I get what you promise. You give whores more money than you give me. I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I am not an amateur." John was leveraging Leonard for more gifts and more money because he held power. He was in a position of authority as an agent with the investigating agency.
So John was caught. He pled guilty. He asked for no time because of the those contributing factors that I talked about. Prosecutors asked for 15 years. His attorneys were asking for zero, and he ended up getting, I believe, 12. Twelve years in federal prison. And John said that, "I have betrayed the badge I wore, the oath I took, my comrades." This is in a letter to the judge. "I deserve and understand the feelings of anger, vengeance and disgust from others in my former field." So one example where someone who went through a top secret background investigation but still engaged in very serious misconduct that hurt the U.S. Navy and the United States government because of the millions of dollars that were lost to Francis Leonard. That's one example, a pretty big one.
So there's another agent that I know. Her name is Latrice DeBruhl-Daniels. So Latrice was hired and came on board when I was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia. And she came to our office as a new agent fresh out of training. And after you go through the training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center you go through a field training program where every day you're monitored by a Field Training Agent. You have to pass off certain skills and exercises and show that you can do the things that you learned in the academy in the real world. And so the training doesn't stop after the academy. It is every day and you're being monitored and you get-you get evaluated every single day on your performance. So she was assigned to the same office I was in. I was a Field Training Agent but I wasn't working directly with her. One of the other FTAs was. I had another agent from her same class. They came back together. But we did things together. I talked with the other FTA as we were formulating the plans for the next day so we could get through-through this field training program.
So again another agent that I knew. She would gone through the background. Now when I was hired and so when John was hired we didn't do a polygraph in order to get hired. They started that later. I believe Latrice would have gone through the polygraph examination to be hired, so even another stage. I'm not positive when they started it, but I believe it was occurring when she was hired. Either way she still went through a very intensive background investigation.
She did her time in Virginia Beach. She transferred to Dubai where she worked in the embassy at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai. So there was a Syrian national, again I'm using a Washington Post story. This one is from October 2nd, 2018. So she met a guy, a Syrian national who was trying to get a tourist visa to the United States. That's what you do; you go to U.S. Consulate to try to get the, apply for this visa. Latrice reached out to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security and found out that Diya, this Syrian national was a target of a DHS and an FBI counter-terrorism investigation. So he was under investigation for terrorism, not a good guy.
They told her specifically stay away from him, stay away from Diya. She then made the decision the conscious decision, instead of backing away which she could have easily done, she made the decision to become romantically involved with, start dating the man, a Syrian national who was under investigation by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Not a good decision, but one that she made. She warned Diya that he was under investigation. So bad. And told him he would be arrested if he traveled to the United States. She was giving him, not only giving him information but helping him stay out of trouble and not get arrested.
Again, he wooed her with gifts and favors kind of like Leonard did with John Beliveau; gifts and favors things that she knew she was not allowed to accept. And if she would have just stayed away from it, would never have gone down this path. But again, someone who passed a background investigation, who claimed to have integrity and honesty, made decisions that led down this path. These were decisions that she made.
She borrowed money from him to go on vacation. He threw her an extravagant birthday party and even invited other people from the government from the embassy to attend this party. Her son started working for his company, so he (her son) started making money working for Diya, a terrorism suspect. So not good. She wrote a message to him saying, "I'm deeply attracted to you. I ultimately want the best for you and pray those investigators see you like I do." In other words, she knew what she was doing was wrong. She knew he was under investigation but she was choosing to ignore all that, just look at the part of him that she was falling in love with, and just prayed that that's what investigators should find.
Like, that's not how investigations work. Investigators don't see a target as a romantic, you know, interest; and just excuse all their faults because they're handsome and give them gifts Later she even wrote to him and said that he had some associates this quote "Some associates that are well known," end quote to federal law enforcement. So she's warning him that he his friends are also being looked at by law enforcement. She said again quote, "I gave them no more than what I could to emphasize your innocence." She said adding that she hoped he hadn't lied to her quote, "since I put my neck out there." End quote.
And then when she was arrested and confronted with that message, with saying that to Diya she said quote, "I didn't remember sending this or telling him this but this is pretty damn bad." End quote. She knew what she did was wrong. She made the choices.
Her defense she said she was trying to help the investigation but allowed it to get personal. You don't just allow an investigation to get personal, you make a decision to allow that. As a professional investigator part of your job is to not allow investigations to get personal. You are trained to do that. You do that every single day. She made the decision.
Diya did end up getting arrested. He was charged in Houston federal court for using fake identification documents. He claimed he was from Guatemala and Argentina in order to try to get into the United States. And DHS said he was involved in illegally exporting goods from the United States to Iran. And there are a lot of restrictions and limits on what can be exported to Iran, so clear violations of the law.
Latrice had been a Special Agent for nine years. They moved her out of Dubai. They moved her to Hawaii. The whole investigation came up. She was suspended and eventually arrested. So these are pretty extreme examples.
Unfortunately these are two people that I actually had a professional relationship with, worked with, went through training with, or worked in the same office with. People that I knew. People that I depended on. When Latrice, when we served a search warrant, she was protecting me as I was protecting her. And then she made the decision to do this.
So the idea that you can use your hiring practices, your background check to avoid or prevent any misconduct is a myth and you just need to realize that. No matter what you do, you can reduce risk, you can prevent, you can build trust by showing people that this is important to you. But you can't force people to make good decisions all of the time. And that's what misconduct comes down to is one person making a decision to do something that you deem as misconduct that violates your policy.
So my recommendation is to have a very stringent background. Follow through. If you ask for references,
actually call the references. If you say you're going to do a criminal history check, do it. Do all of those things to reduce the risk and hopefully weed out some of the more obvious issues or preventable problems. But then recognize that it still is going to happen. Misconduct is going to happen and you need to have a plan in place, a policy and a process that you can follow consistently because how you react to that misconduct matters. That is what is important.
People know that misconduct happens. People understand that sometimes human beings make poor choices. But as an organization you can make a good choice on how you respond and that is what is important.
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