Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Shadiest Ones Around

I was going to quit working as a School Psychologist in a particular district.  I didn't know if I'd find another school psychology job in the same state and was in a dilemma about what to do with my retirement funds.  So, I asked the Almighty.  I sensed I received an answer, but it was so unusual I found it hard to believe it really came from above.  "Should I take out my retirement funds when the required year of waiting is up, or should I leave them invested?"  The answer I discerned was that I had might as well take them out because the fund would be bankrupt in about three years.  I shared the information with the psychologist next to me.  He believed the only way that would happen would be if the whole country went bankrupt.

At the end of the year, I had decided to move to another state, so took out my funds.  I was gone about nine months at which time I missed family and friends so much I returned.  I had hardly gotten back before my bank and several others owned by the same group went "belly up".  My own funds, far less than $100,000, were protected, so my checking account barely felt the changeover.  However, the same group owned the banks where the retirement on my current job, as well as the retirement accounts for the teacher retirement funds, were both stashed.

The corporation that handled the bankruptcy procedures issued me several shares of stock, some common and some preferred, on the current account.  That made the mess look a whole lot better, right?  Except that a few months down the road, they offered me $15 to $16 for all of them.  Non negotiable.  Accept the offer or eat the loss.  Later, the same company -- handling the teachers' fund by now -- paid me $19 from the general slush fund.  This was more than I had been offered for a retirement account on an active job.

The reason given for the demise of the banks and my funds was bad real estate investments.  When I mentioned this to a relative, he said that it was more than bad investments -- fraud was involved.  Since I was working two jobs at the time, I didn't hear more about it.

Years down the line, I went to work for a catalog order company.  About two years into the job, rumors began that we would be offered an IRA or 401K plan.  The finalized plan offered to match 25 per cent of what we invested.

There were a lot of bitter feelings held by long-term employees at this workplace.  The owner apparently thought it was acceptable, if not downright cute, to be a shady individual.  At one time he had business cards printed with "The Shadiest Man In Town" under his name.  His employees found this extremely offensive.

When the business got into financial difficulty, he began passing some bad paychecks each payday.  He avoided dealing with annual raises by circulating notices that in lieu of raises, he would be paying fifty per cent matching on our retirement accounts.

At the same time he was passing bad paychecks, he was paying his wife $15,000 per week for running a spinoff company.  They were separated and divorcing.  He was buying an ocean worthy yacht for himself and a house for her.  Yep, he was preparing to file for bankruptcy.

When we received our quarterly report on our retirement funds that October, my personal deposit showed only the amount of funds I had paid into it.  Worse, those funds had been divided between the column of my investment and the column the employer had supposedly invested.  I told colleagues to check their reports.  I called the insurance company.  They were clueless.  In effect, they had been asleep at the wheel and not even noticed he had failed to send his matching.  He had not even notified them he had increased the proposed amount of the matching.  Why should he?  He hadn't intended to turn it over anyway.  A check had been drawn in the correct amount, but he had refused to deliver it.

The company president, fearful for her own culpability, consulted a lawyer.  She was told to tell the owner to turn over the funds or she would quit.  He turned them over.  We got our correct amount and it was deposited in the correct columns.  Those who were not fully vested would not be losing any of their own money.

Within the month, the owners had made the decision to close the company.  Remember the spinoff company?  In a sudden change of behavior, those employees were offered medical insurance.  When an illness circulated through the building, grateful employees consulted doctors.  You guessed it!  The shadiest man in town hadn't been submitting the health insurance premiums either.

This kind of behavior is as rampant as a viral infection.  You've heard of Enron.  You know about Maadoff.  Recently a city filed for bankruptcy leaving the retirement of public servants in jeopardy.  There have been a lot of other such situations over many, many years.  It can happen in small or large settings.  The amoral custodians of people's futures think nothing of stealing their funds.  And now that element of people appears to be influencing the insurance programs (Social Security and Medicare) of millions of retirees.  Somebody with good morals needs to see these individuals are not allowed to continue to behave in this manner.  Perhaps they need to learn that being sly and cunning is not the same as being intelligent.  They also could benefit from learning that criminal behavior is criminal, not cute.

It's time for us as voters to look more carefully at the moral fiber of the individuals we elect.  Graft and cronyism are supposed to be things of the past.  We need to make sure they stay in the past.  And our media hawks should not permit it.

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