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Supporting a convicted felon?

Old 09-22-15, 12:47 PM
  #1  
banerjek
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Supporting a convicted felon?

A former boss of mine who is one of the most effective people I worked for has asked me for a job reference. I think he's great, it would be the understatement of the year to say my views are not universally shared. About a year after I quit working for him, it was discovered that his degree was forged. He pulled off the ruse for 20 years and succeeded at several positions. He was immediately terminated of course. However, on the basis of drawing a salary on the basis of fake credentials, he was convicted of felony fraud and ordered to pay restitution.

My attitude was that you have to fire the guy (and I wanted to kick him in the butt), but a good performance record over 20 years is worth more than a degree to me. Incompetence and nonperformance are widely tolerated as are exaggerating on resumes to the point that I use what's written to ask questions to uncover what people really know/do.

My friends and colleagues are concerned I'll do significant damage to my professional reputation by vouching for a convicted felon. But I think highly of his capabilities for real, and the felony conviction strikes me more a reflection of a witch hunt after he was publicly demonized (his firing made the newspaper front page). Seems like once the media feeding frenzy starts, the punishment is not proportional to the crime.

Thoughts? I'm inclined to stand by him since no one else will and I can't see how it benefits anyone if he can't work, but I could use a reality check. BTW, this is not a personal favor. He was not a personal friend, but I do regard him as a good person and boss who did a dumb thing.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:00 PM
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I can't see how it would harm you to not stick your neck out for this fraudster.

People who commit this type of fraud are often adept at committing many smaller frauds in social and professional settings. Perhaps you have personal knowledge that he was totally competent in every subject he took on, but I would be very suspicious that he used his scheming and unscrupulous skillset to appear more competent than he really is.

Also, conceiving and carrying out such a fraud should make you very suspicious about his character, and not just his character 20 years ago when he started... this lie has been re-told and protected how many times over the past two decades? He may be able to get a job done, but he has proven that he cannot be trusted in a position of responsibility.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:18 PM
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Eh, I don't know. If you say what you said here in your letter of reference, that shouldn't hurt you. Yes, he made a mistake; I'm sure any future employers are aware of it (if not, he's telling another lie about being convicted of a felony), so don't try to hide it. Make them aware that you know of his lapse in judgement, but feel that has to be weighed against his performance record, which showed competence. An honest, balanced reference means more than a biased one, especially in this case. If his previous issue leads prospective employers to doubt his honesty, your reference won't affect that one way or the other (and if they hire him and he turns out to be a thief, that's on them, not you), but you can provide some perspective on his job performance that may allow them to get a usable asset on the cheap. In the sports world, many franchises become successful by trying to find bargains that way (others guess wrong and crash and burn). In the business world, it's probably less common, but anyone that comes calling to you is already trying to make that decision.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:34 PM
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Faking a degree is a lot more common that you might think. I used to work in the executive placement industry and there were regular cases of candidates for executive positions that would get caught not having the degree they said they did. I am surprised that this resulted in a felony conviction. It's one thing if someone is practicing the Chief of Complicated Surgery at Springfield General and lack the proper credentials. It's another thing when someone is the Regional Sales Coordinator for the third largest distributor of bunk and trundle beds and doesn't happen to have their bachelors in Communications. If someone can do the job, who cares if they went to college? I can understand why someone would get fired for lying about something that was the basis of them getting hired, though if they were my long-term employee and as good as you say I'd probably not even do that, but make it clear that there would be zero tolerance for any further dishonesty in any capacity.

The guy doesn't sound like a con artist, he sounds like a guy who was trying to do what he had to do to be successful. Scratch any successful person or business and there's a good chance you'll find some lie they told to get their foot in the door, or something less than ethical they did to land that big account, etc. So while it's not an excuse for someone to lie or cheat, I also don't think it makes this person a bad guy.

I say if you really feel like you can honestly recommend him based on his performance and qualities, then do so with a clear conscience. Personally I would have a conversation with him to make sure he knows you expect him to be 100% honest with anyone he wants you to provide a reference to. In most cases I think he would have to be upfront with a potential employer about his conviction. It can also make your reference carry more weight if you can say that yes, you know about his felony but think he's a great asset anyway.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Cyclosaurus View Post
I am surprised that this resulted in a felony conviction.
Me too. Everyone knows if you get caught lying on a resume or application, you'll get fired, but I had no idea companies called the police, too.

Perhaps it was a government job and that's why there was media attention.

It can also make your reference carry more weight if you can say that yes, you know about his felony but think he's a great asset anyway.


I agree with this. Lots of people have things in their background they aren't proud of, but still show up to work every day and do good, honest work.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
Eh, I don't know. If you say what you said here in your letter of reference, that shouldn't hurt you. Yes, he made a mistake; I'm sure any future employers are aware of it (if not, he's telling another lie about being convicted of a felony), so don't try to hide it.
He won't be able to hide it. A google search of his name is filled with articles about his conviction on the first page.

I've always wanted to ask him why he didn't get the degree, backfill it, or go for that first job before actually having earned it -- he's too smart to get tripped up on something so stupid. I know he did the lion's share of the work (there are official transcripts that prove this) and he definitely knows the subject matter, so I feel like there is some circumstance that I'm missing.

My friends and colleagues worry about the honesty thing. Frankly, it counts very little to me. Plenty of people produce so little, take liberties with leave, benefits, etc that it's very arguably theft of services, and this is widely tolerated in government and private sectors alike. Others use technicalities in the rules for personal benefit. I don't see this sort of behavior any more trustworthy, and possibly less.

Originally Posted by Squeeze View Post
Me too. Everyone knows if you get caught lying on a resume or application, you'll get fired, but I had no idea companies called the police, too.

Perhaps it was a government job and that's why there was media attention.
It was. High profile and political in nature. So they eviscerated him.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:57 PM
  #7  
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Be honest in your letter of reference. If the person was good at performing his job duties then I don't see how anyone could hold it against you to say that in your letter. I certainly don't think that people who have previously had a felony conviction should be excluded from future employment - doing so would just ensure that they continue criminal acts as the only way of making a living.
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Old 09-22-15, 01:59 PM
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Follow your heart in all things.

Let me tell you a story:

I was 50 years old when, due to the rapid rise of digital photography and online purchasing, my career as a pretty successful sales rep for a major camera brand came to an end. I took a buy-out package to walk away and not sue for age discrimination.

I thought "Hey, I'm still young, energetic and very good at what I do; I'll get a job in no time!"

I send out resumes to positions that I would be perfect for.

Not a single offer for an initial interview until I shave about 15 years off my resume. Is this fraud?

It really didn't matter because even though I started immediately getting interview requests, having them and doing well at them somehow an "internal candidate" was often remembered that I was up against.

There are PLENTY of incompetents out there with degrees out the wazoo. I my current career I am, in my estimation, very effective and successful and owe most of my learning to on the job, looking over somebody's shoulder and youtube.

Stand up for what you perceive and to hell with what anybody else thinks.

Of course you are in academia IIRC and that is where most incompentents go to earn a living. "Those who can do, those who can't teach." G.B.S.
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Old 09-22-15, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by ahsposo View Post
I send out resumes to positions that I would be perfect for.

Not a single offer for an initial interview until I shave about 15 years off my resume. Is this fraud?
I don't think so at all. I've noticed the world is full of litmus tests which judge you on what you aren't and what you didn't do rather than who you are and what you do. I'm not a fan.

I see people do the age obfuscation thing all the time. Dead giveaways include dates being absent from degrees, surprisingly high levels of accomplishment/responsibility early in the job listings, etc. I don't see this as a minus at all but rather an attempt to not be eliminated for a stupid reason which has little if any bearing on ability. And one thing you know about people who've been a few laps around the track is that you know how they turn out -- a lot of these young hot shots flame out early and become the worst sort of dead wood after just a few years.
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Old 09-22-15, 05:41 PM
  #10  
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I'm really surprised they got a felony conviction on this. Yes he lied, but in the 20 years he also delivered, so they got they're money's worth. As well they had 20 years to check, never felt the need to cause he was delivering and did his job. Sucks and is basically wrong.

And I think that's the basis for your dilemma. I'd write him the reference.
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Old 09-22-15, 07:22 PM
  #11  
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The only things I'm aware anyone has been prosecuted for during employment was "cookin' the books" and submitting false financial reports, outright theft, and something that requires professional certifications/licensing (doctor, professional engineer, lawyer, CPA come to mind).

FWIW: I lied on a resume by NOT including my masters degree (MBA). Its amazing how fast I got interviews (and got hired) after dropping that worthless piece of paper. Lucky for me a former company paid for it.
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Old 09-22-15, 07:31 PM
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Originally Posted by banerjek View Post
..... My friends .... are concerned I'll do significant damage to my professional reputation by vouching for a convicted felon.
If your friends are so stupid that their advice has no value.... you need new friends. For what it's worth (as a stranger on the Internet) I agree with your friends.

You liked the guy. I understand. What he did was/is wrong. Don't vouch for wrong!
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Old 09-22-15, 07:36 PM
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It is not as if he was a pretend community organizer with the football at his side.
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Old 09-22-15, 08:12 PM
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I'm astounded that this would result in a criminal prosecution. Firing, of course, but a felony? There are people running around who have physically injured others and pleaded down to a misdemeanor. Sheesh.

I don't see what's wrong with honestly relating your experience with this person. You shouldn't try to explain or rationalize his mistake, just relate what you know, both the good and the bad. I don't know your profession, maybe this is a risk to you. But a bit of compassion is a good trait to have also.

As someone who used to own a company and employed 35 people, I agree that performance is much more important than a degree.
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Old 09-22-15, 08:37 PM
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I would write a letter of reference now, if I would have written the letter before the deception was discovered. However, if I'm going to take a professional risk by doing so then I might as well write the best damn letter of reference I could. As they say, in for a dime in for a dollar. You of course, are in a much better position to determine how much of a professional risk you would be taking. If you don't intend to pursue other employment any time soon and you believe there will be future opportunities for you to shine a little bit, then the long term effect of writing this letter will be minimal. I would make the point of explaining to your present supervisory chain why you decided to oblige your former associate's request. Don't let anyone get blind sided by it, that should mitigate some of the fall out.
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Old 09-23-15, 08:43 AM
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Why stick your neck out for someone who has demonstrated a lack of character? He made his bed and should now sleep in it! MHO
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Old 09-23-15, 09:38 AM
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I would go ahead and write a reference. Protect yourself from abetting fraud (or whatever it might be) by briefly acknowledging his previous errors, but then redirect and focus on what you see as his strengths and accomplishments.
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Old 09-23-15, 09:49 AM
  #18  
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I guess I would write the letter. People need to make a living, and if you thought well of his performance, then I think the conviction doesn't mean much. He's going to have a lot of trouble finding a job anyway. Nowadays, potential employers ask me what I'm going to be doing in 10 years, and I don't know what to say because I'm definitely going to be retired.

I used to work with "engineers" that had a 2 year degree in basket weaving. Maybe it would have been nice if they could have had a little more training, but they did their job very adequately. I would never falsify my degrees, but there have been some well-known examples of people that did their job really well and it turned out they falsified their degrees.
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Old 09-27-15, 06:13 AM
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You could write a letter explaining that you are aware of his faking of credentials and don't condone it, but be that as it may his job performance was excellent, at least from your perspective, and it's up to potential employers to decide whether hiring him on that basis would be justifiable.

Two other things about the OP make me wonder, though:

•If I read it correctly, it sounds like very few of the people that worked with this guy shared your positive evaluation. What's up with that, and how might it affect his performance in another position?

•How much importance will be attached to a letter written by somebody who worked for the applicant, as opposed to something from one of his former bosses? Understood that in some cases an applicant won't ask for references from supervisors because s/he doesn't want them to know that s/he's looking to leave, but that's obviously not his situation. As a potential employer, I might see a warning light go on here...
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Old 09-27-15, 07:37 AM
  #20  
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I would be very clear and explicit about my evaluation about his job performance. The referral letter, and verbal references, should reflect your professional experience with this person, specifically his job performance, and nothing else.

You weren't there when all of that went down so if you're worried about it I'd emphasize the time frame. Their background check and credit check will reflect his mistake so it's not as if you're trying to deceive anyone.
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Old 09-27-15, 08:45 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
I would be very clear and explicit about my evaluation about his job performance. The referral letter, and verbal references, should reflect your professional experience with this person, specifically his job performance, and nothing else.

You weren't there when all of that went down so if you're worried about it I'd emphasize the time frame. Their background check and credit check will reflect his mistake so it's not as if you're trying to deceive anyone.
Perfect!
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Old 09-28-15, 10:48 AM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by Pobble.808 View Post
•If I read it correctly, it sounds like very few of the people that worked with this guy shared your positive evaluation. What's up with that, and how might it affect his performance in another position?

•How much importance will be attached to a letter written by somebody who worked for the applicant, as opposed to something from one of his former bosses? Understood that in some cases an applicant won't ask for references from supervisors because s/he doesn't want them to know that s/he's looking to leave, but that's obviously not his situation. As a potential employer, I might see a warning light go on here...
Actually, he got very positive reviews all around until the scandal broke. Then there was a lot of what I consider revisionist history. Whenever someone gets pilloried in the media, you'll see a similar dynamic. I also can speak to specific skills and accomplishments at least as well (and possibly better than) anyone he reported to as my contact was extensive and direct.

If his former bosses don't know about the scandal -- he previously worked on the east coast so whoever is providing the referral might or might not know what happened. If they do know, they may choose not to comment on it. If that happens, his reviews will be highly positive. His references were very positive when we interviewed him, and I had outside sources that said the same thing at the time. The person he reported to when the scandal broke has since retired, so the only info they may have is a security check.
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Old 09-28-15, 12:17 PM
  #23  
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If it won't come back and bite you in the ass in some way, what would be the harm in giving him a reference?

Especially considering most jobs make you report felony convictions and since it's out in the world in a big way, anyway.

Unless you think it will somehow reflect poorly on you, I don't see a downside to providing this guy with a reference any more than providing a reference with anyone else. You're not vouching for his honesty, you're vouching for his work performance.
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