The old cliché, "If you want to build a better hen house, ask a fox," rang loud and clear today at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. You're probably familiar with Enron, WorldCom, and Madoff scandals, but do you remember the ZZZZ Best Carpet Cleaning fraud from the 1980s and the man behind it, Mark Morze? Morze was found guilty of stealing $100 million and creating more than 10,000 phony documents and several fake tax returns. None of the auditors, lawyers, and bankers who were charged with examining the books detected the fraud. This legendary tale of deception is now must-read material for accounting and business students, helping them prepare to be able to make decisions that will shape their own careers and lives.
Morze is a member of The Pros & The Cons, a group of ex-cons who speak publicly on fraud prevention, sharing their personal experiences. Today he spoke to OSU graduate students and shared highlights from throughout his colorful career, including his 54-month imprisonment. Morze stressed to everyone in the room, "At some point, someone is going to ask you about a decision you made." This statement seemed to strike at the core of why everyone was in attendance.
Rachel Wilhoit, MAcc (Masters of Accounting) student president said, "It's a great opportunity for OSU and the Fisher College of Business to have Mr. Morze here for our graduate students. It's surprising to see the scale of what he got away with for so long; all students will benefit from his experiences." Wilhoit, who will begin her career at the Washington D.C. office of financial advisory and investment banking services firm Duff & Phelps in July, was impressed with Morze's ability to "sell it" to those he involved in the fraud. Morze had no trouble holding the attention of his audience. I didn't see one person using a smart phone during the presentation!
Another soon-to-be graduate, Michael Jacoby, commented on the simplicity of Morze's deception at ZZZZ Best Carpet Cleaning. "The basics were so simple, nothing mind-boggling. This lesson tells me to go into my career with more of an open mind, asking the right questions." Jacoby will begin his accounting career in KPMG's Cincinnati office in January. He and I both nodded in agreement when Morze commented that "fraudsters get away with it because they set your expectations low."
Morze considers his nationwide teaching sessions to be training in due diligence for students, CPAs, corporate executives, and others. Given the nature of scandals that include Xerox, TYCO, Stanford, and countless others that never make the headlines, I think the guy hits the nail on the head when he proclaims there's a lack of inquisitiveness!
Many students found Morze's position that truth and accuracy have absolutely nothing to do with each other to be compelling. Morze has been quoted as saying, "Every financial statement I put together was accurate, but it wasn't truthful."