Successful investment firm on Wall Street.

At 16, Ray seemed to have a good life. He had a high IQ and a 4.0 GPA. He had lots of friends, and they enjoyed hanging out. What no one knew was that Ray’s home life was miserable. His stepfather, a successful businessman who had married Ray’s mother 10 years earlier, had always rejected Ray the boy. The stepfather constantly belittled Ray in public and at home. Ray’s mother could do nothing to protect her son. Nor could she protect herself from the physical abuse her husband inflicted on her. Frequently Ray witnessed his stepfather assaulting his mother, throwing her to the floor and punching her. His half-sister, 11 years his junior, was adored by the father because she was his biological daughter. The rejection by the stepfather and earlier separation from his biological father impacted Ray’s self-perception, and by age 17 Ray was acting out. His MO was burglarizing the homes of the affluent. Sometimes he had help from friends and other times he went in alone. As he progressed in his criminal behavior, he found himself entering homes where people were present and asleep, also referred to as hot burglaries. He reported how powerful and in control he felt when standing in a bedroom of his victims while they slept. Later he would masturbate while thinking about the burglaries.

Case 2. Family Homicide

A devout Christian, married woman living in Florida had 6 children. She suffered from depression for many years. Each pregnancy and the addition of another child added to her stress and depression. Over time her conditioned worsened and her family insisted that she seek therapy. She was prescribed anti-psychotic medications and regular visits with a therapist. Over time her doses of medications doubled but her depression pulled her down into states of psychosis. There were moments of clarity. She admitted to her therapist that she was having thoughts of harming her children. That admission resulted in someone being with her at all times to supervise.

Her husband was not convinced that there was anything really wrong with her other than that she could use a “good swift kick in the pants” to get her back on track. Besides, they both wanted children. They even decided that she would go off her anti-psychotic medication so she could get pregnant again. Besides, he argued, it was God’s will for them that they have lots of children.  In truth the woman had actually reported to her therapist that it was her husband who wanted more children and that he convinced her it was the right thing to do and that all would be well according to God’s plan.

The husband soon decided that his wife really did not need constant supervision and, without notifying the therapist, he went off to work leaving her alone with the 6 children. He believed she needed some independence. The wife waited until she knew he was gone and placed the family dog in a secure space so he would not interfere with what she was about to do. She knew that she could never raise her children properly and believed what she was about to do was in their best interests even though she would be damned to hell for eternity. She filled the bathtub and one by one brought in the children and drowned them. The eldest boy who was 11 was difficult because he resisted and tried to escape, but she was stronger and faster. When she was done killing them all she called her husband at work and calmly announced that she had done something very bad to the children.

Prosecutors believed that she had intentionally killed the children. Yet in her defense, her sanity became a key issue. Was she responsible or criminally responsible for the killings?

Case 3. A Child Murderer

Luke, age 12, appeared on the surface to be a normal child who seemed reasonably happy and respectful of others. But there were differences in his appearance that made him a target for his schoolmates. His ears were a bit deformed; he had a noticeable speech impediment, wore thick glasses, and had a hearing impairment. Luke also was struggling in school due to his ADHD, and as a result he was 2 years behind his classmates. Luke struggled to fit in with kids younger than him.  He greatly resented the taunting and had no real friends. He was very sad and angry at the recent loss of his grandfather, with whom he had been living since his parent’s divorce.  His new stepfather had a violent temper and was very controlling. The tension was so severe that his 17-year-old sister announced one day that the stepfather had molested her and promptly moved out. Luke had also learned accidentally from another student at school that Luke’s real father lived just 30 miles away and that he had met him before. Luke had never seen his biological father. All of these factors deeply affected Luke’s self-esteem and his growing anger toward others.

One day while walking alone in a local park Luke noticed a young, cute little boy by himself. Luke called to the boy and offered to show him some kittens he had just found in the woods nearby. Once inside the wooded area Luke attacked and strangled the boy. He then smashed in the boy’s skull with a large rock and sodomized him with a stick. After making up several misleading stories, Eric eventually confessed that he alone had killed the boy but could not explain his actions, nor did he appear particularly concerned about the killing. What was it that made Luke kill? Was Luke biologically predisposed to violence? Was it lack of parental nurturing? Could there have been other environmental factors influencing Luke? Luke was sentenced to several years in prison.

Case 4. A Ponzi Scheme

A prominent New York City businessman operated a very successful investment firm on Wall Street. He made such sound investment decisions that investors made unusually high returns on their money. Over the years more and more people came to the businessman for investment advice and to invest their money with him. There were, of course, federal investigators who expressed concerns with his ability to give such high returns on investor’s monies. But nothing ever came of the investigations because the businessman was thorough and very, very careful not to make any mistakes to upset his investors. Over the years he attracted thousands of investors, handing him billions of dollars to be invested. The only problem with the business was that it was all a scam. The businessman simply kept two sets of books: one for federal auditors and the other for himself. Indeed, investors made great returns, but that was all contingent upon new investors coming on board with the company.

Nothing lasts forever. Eventually a significant recession hit the country that caused two critical things to happen: People stopped investing and many of those who had invested wanted their money back. Recessions usually are the downfall of fraudsters because they gradually become exposed, get arrested, prosecuted, and sent to prison, usually for a few years. In this extreme case, thousands of people lost most of their investments, getting pennies on the dollar in return. Some investors committed suicide as they had entrusted the businessman with all their assets. The businessman lost everything, including his family, and was sentenced to many years in prison.

What drives a person to take such risks knowing that he could be exposed any time the economy ceased to thrive and people stopped investing? He put everything on the line: his family, his freedom, and his reputation. Yet, knowing the risks, he still pretended to be someone he wasn’t, and in the end it caused irreparable harm to many, many people. What makes a person like this businessman choose to commit felony fraud on a daily basis? How does a person justify such choices when so much is at stake?

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