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Because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did the wrong thing, our criminal paid dearly: He pled guilty to a charge of petty theft. So did his buddy at the commissary. The employee was fired. But the purchaser, it turned out, was a retired mil- itary colonel with a civilian job on the base—a person commonly known as a “double dipper.” He was let go from a high-paying civilian job and now has a criminal record. But most expensively, I heard he lost several hundred thousand dollars in potential gov- ernment retirement benefits. Would the same person be prosecuted for petty theft today? It depends entirely on the circumstances. But it could and does happen.

The point here is that the term abuse often is used to describe a variety of petty crimes and other counterproductive behavior that have become common and even silently con- doned in the workplace. The reasons employees engage in these abuses are varied and highly complex. Do abusive employees eventually turn into out-and-out thieves and criminals? In some instances, yes. We will describe that later.


Edwin H. Sutherland

Considering its enormous impact, relatively little research has been done on the subject of occupational fraud and abuse. Much of the current literature is based on the early works of Edwin H. Sutherland (1883–1950), a criminologist at Indiana University. Sutherland was particularly interested in fraud committed by the elite upper-world busi- ness executive, against either shareholders or the public. As Gilbert Geis noted, Suther- land said, “General Motors does not have an inferiority complex, United States Steel does not suffer from an unresolved Oedipus problem, and the DuPonts do not desire to return to the womb. The assumption that an offender may have such pathological distor- tion of the intellect or the emotions seems to me absurd, and if it is absurd regarding the crimes of businessmen, it is equally absurd regarding the crimes of persons in the eco- nomic lower classes.”9

For the noninitiated, Sutherland is to the world of white-collar criminality what Freud is to psychology. Indeed, it was Sutherland who coined the term “white-collar crime” in 1939. He intended the definition to mean criminal acts of corporations and individuals acting in their corporate capacity. Since that time, however, the term has come to mean almost any financial or economic crime, from the mailroom to the boardroom.

Many criminologists, myself included, believe that Sutherland’s most important con- tribution to criminal literature was elsewhere. Later in his career he developed the “the- ory of differential association,” which is now the most widely accepted theory of criminal behavior. Until Sutherland’s landmark work in the 1930s, most criminologists and sociologists held the view that crime was genetically based, that criminals beget criminal offspring.

While this argument may seem naive today, it was based largely on the observation of non–white-collar offenders—the murderers, rapists, sadists, and hooligans who plagued society. Numerous subsequent studies have indeed established a genetic base for “street” crime, which must be tempered by environmental considerations. (For a thorough ex- planation of the genetic base for criminality, see Crime and Punishment by Wilson


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