Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Unvarnished Greed"

Every once in a while I come across a story that grabs me and shakes me to my very core.

Obviously, I relate and to some extent see a reflectin of my own struggle to be honest about who I am and what I did.  Also, how do I see the world? 

The account of the prospective sentencing of former investment banker and broker, Rhonda Breard, in Seattle is one of those stories.  In a poignant Seattle Times profile, reporter, Mike Carter gets at the issues that are at the heart of our material world.  Carter's story in excerpt, follows:

"Disgraced Kirkland investment broker Rhonda Breard (pic) says that unvarnished greed and 'wanting to be like every rich person she ever met' led her to embezzle millions from her clients, and she believes she should go to prison — but not for as long as the government wants.

Breard is scheduled to be sentenced next Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle on a single count of mail fraud. Federal sentencing guidelines suggest she be locked up for between roughly 8 and 10 years. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.

However, Breard, 48, in sentencing documents filed with the court this week, says her voluntary and extensive cooperation with prosecutors, financial regulators and ING Financial Partners, which had licensed her, support a sentence of 5 years and 8 months. It would allow her to get out of prison before her two youngest children, ages 9 and 11, turn 18, 'and she will be able to be a mother to them thereafter,' according to the documents.  'This is good for everyone,'  wrote Breard's attorney, Ronald Friedman.

Federal prosecutors, citing Breard's exceptional cooperation, are pushing for an eight-year sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Blackstone, who heads the office's Complex Crimes Division, noted that Breard only cooperated after she'd been found out and that the thefts had gone on for a decade.  The documents filed by U.S. prosecutors and Breard also provide updated numbers of victims and the amount of money Breard stole from them: 43 of her roughly 100 investors lost $11.4 million, nearly $2 million more than previously reported. They also say that Breard began taking money as early as 2000, four years earlier than previously thought.

In federal court, the prosecution and defense can file a sentencing memorandum with factors they want the court to consider during sentencing.

According to court documents, Breard used the money to travel and live lavishly. Breard owned three luxury homes, including a $2.6 million home on Lake Washington, and 27 cars, boats, trucks and recreational vehicles.  The government recovered $250,000 in cash and checks, and has seized the cars and houses. The homes, however, were heavily mortgaged, prosecutors said.

Breard was manager and chief executive officer of Breard & Associates Wealth Management, a boutique brokerage on the Kirkland waterfront that catered to well-heeled clients. She advertised her services — and her success — through a series of infomercials titled, 'Help me Rhonda.'

Last February she abruptly shuttered the offices and, according to her lawyers, went home and attempted suicide by cutting her wrists after an ING audit turned up a secret set of files detailing the scheme. Breard had hidden the thefts by sending out forged statements, according to charging documents. Some investors lost their life savings, the documents note.  Several investors sued ING, and the Dutch financial giant has settled with 16 victims and is negotiating with others, according to the government's documents.

Blackstone has asked U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to postpone a restitution hearing until those negotiations are complete [.  . . ]

[Mrs. Breard] approached the U.S. Attorney's Office early in the investigation and underwent detailed debriefings by prosecutors, the FBI and state financial regulators. She turned over a box of handwritten documents detailing her victims and the amounts taken over the past several years, Friedman wrote. 'While some may say cynically, 'Sure she cooperated, she was about to be raised on a stake' — there are many individuals who commit both lesser and greater frauds, who do not cooperate, do not take responsibility, and who do not assist our system of justice to the extent possible in making amends,'  Friedman wrote.

In a draft of a letter she intends to send to her victims after sentencing, Breard apologizes and says she had reasons for what she did, 'just not good ones.  Whether you call it selfishness, materialism, wanting to appear more successful than I was ... It was wrong. Wrong from day one. Wrong from beginning to end,' she wrote."
I honestly believe that I was not motivated to be like rich people that I knew.  Frankly, I never really cared about material wealth, but I did want to appear competent and that required some compromise with the material world.  I should have concerned myself with what my family's actual needs were.  My family's actual needs had little to do with material wants and desires.

I want to say something about the label of "disgraced," attached to Mrs. Breard.  Mrs. Breard hurt people financially, and she is a disgraced investment advisor and broker.  She certainly injured many people.  But in her current circumstance Mrs. Breard seems to be doing what should be done--she is in her own language "unvarnished" in her acceptance of responsibility.   What would her prosecutors rather she do, or say?


  1. Ughhhh, the orginal intro to this post was very ugly. Written late last week upon reading it today, I was mortified at the even below average grammar by my pathetic standards. I pretty certain it makes a wee bit more sense now, marginally. Nonetheless I hope you share my interest in the gripping story of this woman and her struggle to embrace who she became and what she is. There have been a couple of times in the last year, when a story of someone fallen is far more powerful because they are fallen than if I had known them in their previous incarnation--just another affluent asshole, just another alpha dog, just another overachiever. . .

  2. This post was highly insightful and sensitive. The article, and even the photograph from the newspaper article really captures something that I wish more people were attuned to. Maybe there is hope for a better way of looking at the world beyond all this glitz and glamourous nothing?