The Sound of Corruption

John Yeh is a businessman. Like most businessmen, John has the drive and determination that inspire people to succeed. John went to college at the University of Maryland where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and then pursued his master’s in computer science.

After graduation John started his own company. The company was known as Integrated Microcomputer Systems and after a few successful government contracts, John’s company quickly grew with a revenue of $21 million in 1987.

What makes John Yeh any different from others that have succeeded?

John has a disability that made him have to work a little bit harder than most. Born without the ability to hear, John needed to find an alternate way to communicate. Growing up in China, Taiwan, and Brazil he learned to read lips and knew Chinese sign language.

At the age of 15, John arrived in the United States were he had to translate Chinese to English and then English to sign language. In school he was put in a class with eight and nine year olds, leaving John feeling embarrassed; yet determined.

After graduation he struggled to land a job. When John was ready to start his own company he found it difficult to obtain a loan. Every bank that he went to, turned John away. Then, as luck would have it, John discovered a loan that was available to the handicapped through the U.S. Small Business Administration in the amount of $100,000 dollars. (Knocke, 1989) As you can see, John’s life was not that of anything I would call normal.

John went on to become the 2008 Deaf Person of the Year by Deaf Life magazine and Gallaudet University once honored him as Entrepreneur of the Year. (Washington Post) All of which makes John Yeh’s arrest seem to come as a shock.

What would drive John, who seems to have everything finally going right for him, to commit an occupational fraud? Although that question may never be answered, the Department of Justice unsealed twenty-six indictments on November 19, 2009. (Department of Justice Press Release, 2009) The twenty-six, including John Yeh, was charged with engaging in a scheme to steal millions of dollars from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Video Relay Service program.

John’s company, Viable Communications, makes Communication devices that allow deaf people to communicate over the telephone through a video type interface. The video shows a translator that translates the voice or data type message and then uses sign language to communicate back. John Yeh was then able to bill the FCC for a portion of the time being used. The program started off in 1993 with about $30 million and quickly grew to over $400 million in 2007. (Potter, 2010)

John is accused of coaching employees and other on how to make false calls that would not be suspicious. Some of the other twenty-five indictments include those involved with the scheme from various other call centers. Six other call centers are independently owned and did contract work for Viable Communications. Altogether, officials still have not said precisely how much they think was stolen, but the estimate was approximately in the “tens of millions.” (Glod & Johnson, 2010)

The question still remains; did John Yeh use his fiduciary powers to make people commit occupational fraud when they normally would not have?

Occupational fraud is a term that is used to describe a wide variety of corporate fraud cases and can be broken down into more distinct segments to help identify the different types of frauds being committed. Each type of fraud can be easily identified in some schemes, while other schemes are more difficult to identify. One reason for the difficulty in identifying a fraud type is during some cases where fraudsters are committing several fraudulent acts to commit their crimes, thus making it harder to categorize each scheme. For example, one investigation may start with a billing fraud scheme and turn into a conflict of interest/corruption scheme with multiple parties involved.

Corruption, according to Joseph T. Wells, can be defined as an act in which a person uses his or her position to gain some personal advantage at the expense of the organization he or she represents. (Wells, 2008) In this light, John Yeh had the equipment that was needed to deploy the services. John also worked with other independent contractor that needed what John had to offer to turn a profit. This would leave me to believe that he defiantly had the ability to misuse his fiduciary powers to conspire with other and corrupt their business relationships.

In the case of John Yeh, the details may not be clear as to the extent of the corruption. Details such as who was the initiator are still not clear. Knowing who the initiator would better determine the type of corruption, such as economic extortion or bribery.

In either case, to help deter corruption, you should keep an eye out for gifts and create an ethical policy that states employee are not allowed to receive gifts over a certain amount. Maintain a set of reports that actively looks for financial changes and policy deviations as red flags may indicate corruption.

When corruption is at its worst the amount of damage caused is hard to place a price tag on. Although millions of dollars are alleged to be stolen using this scheme, the money itself may not be the only thing lost. If John Yeh is convicted of his crimes, how will it affect all the deaf people that used the service legitimately? Will the service be discontinued or will the price go up if the government chooses to stop giving money for the program?

By: Joseph Dustin