Saturday, August 25, 2007

Michael Vick - A Career Gone To The Dogs!

Most everywhere you turn when looking at sports these days you’ll see and hear stories about the prosecution of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons football star quarterback. Expecting to be prepared to advance his career, Vick has now pled guilty and accept the government’s plea deal. Sentencing is to come in a few months, but Vick could face up to five years in prison.

As stated in the White Collar Crime Prof Blog, “A best-case scenario for Vick that the defense lawyers may be seeking is a “Martha Stewart” double-nickel sentence: five months in prison, five months of home confinement. The government’s offer would most likely call for a term of a year-and-a-day, which under the Bureau of Prisons guidelines would allow Vick to receive a 15% good time credit, reducing his sentence by 54 days to a bit over ten months. Any sentence under a year that his attorneys are trying to negotiate would have to come in under ten months for it to be an advantage because there is no good time credit if the sentence is a year or less.”

Not only is this going to be difficult for Vick, but others who were charged in this Federal dog fighting conspiracy accepted plea agreements and decided to cooperate with the government. In more ways that one - Vick is in the proverbial “dog house.” His actions have had multiple and far reaching consequences. Not the least of which is that Vick has been suspended indefinitely without pay from the NFL.

Likewise, Nike and Reebok have given Vick the boot. According to news services, “Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Michael Vick, while Reebok took the unprecedented step of stopping sales of his No. 7 jersey.” Likewise, Donruss, a major trading card company pulled Vick from future releases and Upper Deck removed autographed material from its on-line stores. And finally, Rawlings decided to end its relationship with Vick due to the conspiracy charges. All of these changes have huge financial implications.

All of the above consequences came directly as a result of Vick seeming to enjoy a non-football passion – dog fighting. Now the question that is worth reviewing is did Vick at any time give any serious consideration to the consequences of his illegal actions? I can imagine that he saw this as a sport (perhaps one that isn’t recognized), but to him a testosterone filled pastime. After all what harm can come from fighting pit bulls (a cruel sport)? Obviously more than Vick would have ever imagined!

Once you look past the surface abuse of animals (a big issue for PETA), the fact it’s an illegal activity, etc., you’ll find that Vick rationalized his behavior just like any of us who have been convicted of an illegal action. I am convinced that Martha Stewart, for example, had no clue that her choice to sell stock on a tip from her broker was going to end in a prison sentence. The fact is that many an unsuspecting person may make choices that can have immediate or prolonged consequences in unexpected ways.

The consequences of actions are not limited to activities that folks even understand are illegal. Take for example, Genarlow Wilson, a young man who is incarcerated for 10 years for his sexual activity with a minor. His case has received national attention, yet, even after the law that convicted him was changed, he remains in prison. Whether the consequence is fair isn’t always relevant. What is a fact is EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE. Michael Vick is just another example...and an unfortunate example of one who is suffering far reaching consequences for his choices.

The Choices Foundation, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to teaching young people the relationship between choices and consequences. “If we can impress on the mind of our youth the direct correlation between what we choose and the consequences that follow, perhaps we can help them avoid consequences like those Michael Vick are facing,” stated Choices Foundation founder Chuck Gallagher.

In a presentation to a youth group not long ago, one young man stated, “Well, it’s not dishonest if you don’t get caught.” Attitudes like that are what empowers people to make unethical decisions and expect no direct consequence. From my personal experience, I know that one can rationalize a choice all day long and it doesn’t color the action or change the consequence. “My actions left me incarcerated in Federal prison, an experience I will never forget.,” stated Gallagher.

As a motivational speaker and ethics keynote speaker, I share my experience in a way that connects with his audience, whether a business executive group or a youth group from a university. “Understanding the effect of Choices and Consequences from one who directly knows can be powerful and an influence for ethical behavior.” Perhaps, when the smoke clears, Vick can see the effect clearly from the choices he made. And maybe, just maybe, Vick will use his powerful influence for good, helping those who have looked up to him understand that Every Choice Has A Consequence

Thursday, August 16, 2007

20 – 15 and 12 Years In Prison - Every Choice Has A Consequence

Every month, for that matter every week, without fail, an indictment or an announcement about a prison sentence makes the news in a dramatic fashion. Now is no different. What is different is a trend that should capture attention – especially to those who might consider the “gray area” of ethical choices. Consider the following:

The Wall Street Journal reports, “On Monday, former Adelphia Executives John and Timothy Rigas reported to the federal prison in Butner, N.C. John, Adelphia’s founder and his son Timothy, Adelphia’s former chief financial officer, were convicted in 2004 on multiple fraud charges, but had remained free on bail while appealing their convictions. John has been sentenced to 15 years, Timothy 20. Here’s the story from the Washington Post”

Twenty years and fifteen years, count back and ask yourself where you were fifteen and twenty years ago, then think to now. For these men, that’s the time that they will serve in Federal Prison for their actions. For those reading, do no misinterpret my comments, I am not expressing an opinion on the fairness of the sentence or the crimes they committed. That judgment is certainly not up to me. Rather, just think about the consequences from the choices they made.

In the case of the Rigases, the eldest 82 and the youngest 51, they lived lavish lifestyles but will find the end of life dramatically different. Prison is not “club Fed.” There is no club to it. The consequences of their choices mean that, no only does their life change, but the lives of those they touched do as well. Certainly, shareholders of Adelphia (the company they are convicted of defrauding) have suffered financially, but likewise, their families will have their lives changed in unexpected ways.

The elder Rigas is reported to have cancer. What a potentially dramatic end to life to find that one’s death occurs in prison. The likelihood that an 82 year old man will survive 20 years in prison is unlikely. Needless to say, his grandchildren will be affected along with other members of his family.

Likewise the New York Times reports, “Sanjay Kumar, former chief executive of Computer Associates, now known as CA Inc., began serving a 12-year prison term yesterday for his role in a $2.2 billion accounting fraud at the software company. Mr. Kumar, 45, reported to a federal prison in Fairton, N.J., said Mike Truman, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He will serve his sentence at a minimum-security federal prison camp there.

Mr. Kumar pleaded guilty in April 2006, two weeks before his trial was to begin, to charges including conspiracy, securities fraud and obstruction of justice stemming from an accounting scandal that cost CA shareholders more than $400 million. When he pleaded guilty, Mr. Kumar admitted that he had improperly booked software license revenue to meet Wall Street profit targets and then lied to investigators about it.”

In my opening I made a comment about the “gray area” of ethical choices. Some would argue that there is no gray. Yet, those in the business community are called upon daily to make decisions regarding business activities that, upon review, could be called into question. Over the years I have seen many restatements of financial information, due to better information, or a change in interpretation. So what is “gray?”

Interesting, but just a week or so ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a group on the subject of ethics (something I enjoy doing – by the way, I’d consider it a privilege to speak to your organization!). But, back to the subject, during that presentation the group was presented with several situations where “ethics” may be called into play. The result was fascinating. Among a group of professed ethical people, there were no clear answers.

So what does that have to do with prison sentences for folks judged to be guilty of various crimes. Perhaps nothing or perhaps everything. From my own experience as an otherwise ethical person, my first venture into clearly unethical behavior didn’t start out as a blatant unethical choice. Rather, I dipped my toe into the “gray area” of ethical decision making thinking that there was no consequence. At first there was none – at least none that I could discern. But, every choice has a consequence.

The Rigases and Kumar are experiencing that today, even as you read these words. They will be counted six times per day. They will be known as a number. They will be fed what the inmates cook at a time dictated. They will be expected to work for some nominal amount per hour (I earned 12 cents per hour). And, they will quickly come to understand being disconnected from society – there only connection being mail and collect calls from pay phones. There life has changed as a result of their choices.

Every choice has a consequence! Do your employees make the best choices for your company – or for themselves? Most organizations are vulnerable to unethical activities at any level. The message, I share as a keynote ethics speaker, crystallizes, for those who hear, the critical importance of making the right choices and the positive results that can follow…a must for those who want to promote individual and organizational integrity in the workplace.
If you feel that your organization can benefit from straight talk about success, choices and ethics…give me a call.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

You Missed The Point! Choices have Consequences.

In a recent news release related to teen choices and ethics, I stated: "It seems that some things never change. As adults, we hear through the media, about the lack of ethics and the consequences of ethical lapses. They capture attention in almost every venue – from broadcast to internet to print. Whether we hear about Enron, HP, or Martha Stewart – one thing we know is that the choices we make can have a profound impact on the consequences we live."

I stand by the statement! There are many who capture the attention of the media, Paris Hilton, Richard Scrushy, and yes - in the not so distant past - Martha Stewart. All, including me, have suffered negative consequences for the choices we made. There is, however, one common demoninator...we all made a choice that became an example.

Well...I must have hit a nerve. Today I received this e-mail response - a portion I am reprinting here. In the press release, "That First Bite: Success NoMatter The Cost - A Real Ethics Issue?", the firstparagraph asserted: "Whether we hear about Enron, HPor Martha Stewart..."Invoking the name of Martha Stewart in the pressrelease is a "real ethics issue" because this was acollateral attack upon a namesake company thatrepresents the jobs of hundreds of employees and anamesake brand that is the source of livelihood forthousands of families.

The author goes further to say, "Ms. Stewart made a small, inconsequential personalinvesment stock sale that had nothing to do with hercompany or her corporate position. Her small personalinvestsment trade was perfectly legal under the plainlanguage of the securities laws. She owed no one anexplanation for her legal investment sale, and she didnothing wrong in connection with this personal matter."

Well, first I respect people's opinion and the willingness of the writer to express his/hers. However, a "small inconsequential" CHOICE earned her the right to join the ranks of those who are convicted felons and, short of a presidential pardon, will keep that mark for the rest of our lives. Martha (a fine human being) made a choice and endured the consequence. THAT'S THE POINT! Every choice has a consequence!

The e-mail author goes further to state: "Clearly, this foundation is nothing more than thebogus use of a non-profit organization by a snake-oilcharlatan and fleecer who is living a parasiticexistence through total fraud."

O.K., everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but I would say that checking the facts might be beneficial overall. Fact, Martha Stewart broke the law and went to jail. To her credit, she has recoved nicely and, through that recovery, has provided a positive example for others to follow. Fact, the Choices Foundation brings presentations to our Nation's youth in a effort to help them avoid bad choices that do have very real negative consequences. If we can make an impression on the life of will be worthwhile. You know, I may be wrong, but I would bet that Martha would agree.

Martha Stewart is just as much an example of choices and consequences as Bill Gates is. Both made choices and have received the consequences. Martha to prison and Bill to extreme wealth. And both are living examples that people will use as examples.

As the founder of the Choices Foundation, let me encourage you to get active in helping our young people understand the benefit of making choices in their lives founded on a firm ethical foundation. For more information on presentations to youth and young adults visit:

For a copy of the news release the e-mail author was referring to visit: