Friday, January 21, 2011

Small Crime, Big Damage Control: part one of 1 or 2 or who knows

Okay, I've kept mum--believe it or not--on the big issues our condo has been facing lately. After we found that Evil Zombie Building Maintenance Tech (EZBMT) had stolen from a unit, (BAM BOOM) life changed for us all. I'm talking practical details. But also, emotions are engaged. There is work. There is also the rehabilitation of everybody who is left. And there is the spirit or zeitgeist of business operations, which is conducted on so many levels. It is not black and white, and oh I wish it was.

But it can't be. It's a business. It's also the home of many people, including my own. It's trust and security and money and oh-so-minor in life's big issues. Cleaning up after one Jerk: it happens all the time.

EZ's just another of the many shady asshats out there. Not a big in the scheme of things. Not smart; just clever. Not successful; except lately. But he has 24 hours every day to study how to stay away from us. Our 24 hours per day is trying to get back on even keel. And that's just wrong.

But though I insult his intelligence, his style, and his habits, he did pull one over on us. So maybe this account will also be wrong. It's just what I see.

That Missing Two Ounces of Prevention.
1. Yes, hindsight: he's done other things. He's got court-ordered child support in other states and no driver's license. I think it's a sign of one or two flaws that may have kept us from hiring this dude--except we didn't do a background check, so I can't say for sure. The idea of background checks is horrid to me--until now. And we all accepted this payroll garnishment and lack of full I.D.  by not focusing on it. And some heavy glossing from somebody else, who took it cheerily in stride: Zombie Assistant.

2. Our stupid policy manual didn't have a good enough anti-nepotism policy. And his sister-in-law is Zombie Assistant. More on that later.

Two Tons of Cure.
I rammed it through. The Board wasn't even thinking about it. They were still in shock (or, Captain Nemo was panicking)--and right after that, depression. The old Board wasn't completely averse--they just weren't thinking of it. The new ones weren't averse, they just didn't have the details.

I called firms; got bids; informed our financial professionals; prepared a presentation. We had a Special Session. And the Board said "Yes, we have to do it."

So we had a private investigator come in. After that, the tension level ratcheted up in the Board. We had to keep a secret. Employees were officially under suspicion. And so forth. It was hard.

And the employees did know they were under a shadow. They had a hard time with it. No reassurance anyone could make was untainted. We all knew that, secrets or not.

I sent the P.I. more prep documents than you can imagine, writing them all up myself. I looked at pictures of items from the on-line market--you could see parts of our maintenance room in some of the backgrounds. Others were of unknown upholstery, possibly EZBMT's house. I investigated a pile of invoices, looking for prices and buying trends. Some things I had to look up on the Internet to get a price--expensive items for building repair that are custom-made for old buildings, or out of date on price lists but still useful to us, that still belonged to us (allegedly). Investigation of other items, all priced and listed on an Excel sheet--not my favorite computer program, but damn it works well for some things.

Some of the Board yelled at me for going overly. I just kept going. I didn't even have time to tell them they were full of shit. It was delegated to me, and I did everything I could think of except rent a car and a pair of handcuffs. I knew we might not get anything out of the employees. I wanted the P.I. to have every smoking gun I could get him.

I checked Vendor Ledgers to see if we had accounts with dummy companies (possibly run by employees). I checked for shipping contracts, trying to figure out how this stuff got sent out, if its origin of shipment was from our building.  I studied forensic accounting on the Internet so that I could figure out how to get more information out of what I was looking at already.

I say alleged because I have everything except proof. And that's the critical part.

In the two weeks' worth of items I could try to track, EZ sold $1300.00 worth of stuff for less than $500.00. It's not like he was making a killing out there. In fact, if he was buying it himself to re-sell, he lost a lot of money.

Zombie Assistant
In the meantime, all of staff was reeling. Angry as we were, tense as it was, we had to project confidence.
I had to write a new conflict-of-interest policy, so that Zombie Assistant didn't open up mail about her brother-in-law. I made her sign it. (She broke it twice. That I know of.)

In the meantime, she was "Embattled Dowager", "Plucky Maiden", "Crying Victim", "Servant of Us All" and "Evil Bitch When Nobody's Looking" by turns. (The last one is customary, but heavily accented under pressure.) You should know that her work ethic, already abysmal, took a nose dive. Sure, I understand--her family and her job were in peril. I do understand. It has to be hard.

The conflict of interest policy review happened on Thursday. By Friday she was laughing as she took off early from work. Do I sound bitter? Well. I took it as a sign of what I could expect. Maybe I am right, or maybe it's a self-fulfilling bad attitude on my part.

Zombie Boss
Shortly thereafter, we fired Zombie Boss. Unrelated: but he couldn't figure out what to do. I had to call all our maintenance suppliers, because otherwise EZBMT could have allegedly continued to order everything in sight and allegedly sell it on-line. The look of mystification on ZB's face when I did this was just awful.

While I was down there handling that, EZBMT's lawyer called and asked if he could have his job back. Unbelievable. But they called the weak link. I just happened to be there.

Firing ZB has added work. Or maybe not; he couldn't cope. But there is a lot of work.

Other Zombie Maintenance Tech (OZBMT):
The pleasant surprise in this is how OZBMT has managed to shake off the Zombie virus. He understood everything right away.
     No going into units for repairs alone anymore? Thank you for covering my ass.
     Nobody else to take call? That's okay, I'll take it: we'll work it out later.
     No snow removal contract, because Zombie Boss forgot about it? Order some ice-melt; I know what to do.

It was like the sun coming out. He could show what he was made of, at last: now that EZ and Zombie Assistant weren't running their dog-and-pony show about who was the competent building tech. It conveyed that we had also missed some of the good.

Yet he seemingly had to know something about the allegedly missing items. So there's still all this fog in front of the sun. There's still this feeling that maybe he's Compensating for past transgressions. The better he got, the more I worried; I think we all did.

OZ was worried for EZ, he felt for him. EZ betrayed a lot of people. But in other ways--and OZ doesn't even know it himself--he was instantly happier, his shoulders instantly straighter. When bad things are allowed to continue, people suffer. Even if they don't know it. And that is just another reason why we have to fight the crimes, petty meanness, small evils. Even in the intangible ways, this all causes suffering.

Two or three weeks later, we informed the staff that we would have investigative interviews. We told them Friday for Monday. . . . . . .


Bob G. said...

Without actually being there and doing the "fly-on-the-wall" gig, you sound as though you did a wonderfully COMPREHENSIVE assessment and performed the needed tasks (hoi=wever unpleasant) to get things set back to rights for everyone.

You covered the bases, brought in the pinch-hitter, and made the right calls, especially with the PI.

I can only imagine what going through ALL those purchase records and accounting books was like (and I took accounting in college plus, was treasurer at our church a long time ago)

You don't need POWER to be RESPONSIBLE.
Just the desire to do what it RIGHT.
And "you done good".

WTG, Kiddo.

Have a great (and hopefully restful) weekend!

Momma Fargo said...

I'm with Bob G.! You did a wonderful job of being thorough, complete, fair, and still being sure the right thing is done. Proud of you!

The Observer said...

Ann T:

Oh. My. God.

What a mess! I am amazed at everything you have done--I am not sure I would have been that assertive.

Your plan is sound and I bet you'll get to the bottom of it!

Try to take some time for yourself this weekend. :)

The Observer

PS: Am I boring? I miss your comments!

The Bug said...

Wow that's a lot of crap to have to deal with!

I will make one comment about the child support - court ordered doesn't necessarily mean he shirked it. I had an employee who voluntarily paid his ex, but it didn't count toward his child support because he didn't go through the court system. So he got garnished. I actually think that in Ohio it's pretty common to garnish because it's easier for the ex-spouse.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
You are so supportive, and you were at the time, too! I so appreciate all the support. There were some days . . .

Ann T. said...

Thank you Momma Fargo!
Being fair is very important to me. Sometimes I think I'm still a kid, the way I go on and on about it!

Your good opinion means a lot to me.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I am so glad to hear you say O.M.G.
because that is how I felt the whole time.

You are never boring. First my computer was out--and then I would come home (this week) from Zombie land and more or less crash, these past two days.

I'll be over, never fear! I need to catch up with The Observer's doings!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Bug,
Yes, you're right--it's not fair to count that alone. It only looks wrong in hindsight, like so many other things did.

That's proof that my perspective is a little skewed now. I needed that heads up!

Thanks for the encouragement, too!
Ann T.