“Corruptophenia” – a Three-Act Ploy
- an ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward, presenting a synopsis for a Three-Act Ploy – a work of fiction based on detailed accounts of real-life systemic corruption in a local authority far, far away (on this side of the galaxy). This could be a big one – The Who Dunnit of the year so far!
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Regular readers of Real Whitby have no doubt been anticipating that it must surely be only a matter of time before the series of investigations pursued by the Corruption Busters unearths traces of a major fraud involving elected members and/or paid public servants in one or another of the local authorities.
Unfortunately, it remains unclear how these matters can be progressed. As we have seen, compliant Formal Complaints to the relevant authorities are universally “stone-walled”.
If no diligent and impartial investigation can be aroused in these cases of minor malversation – involving, as they do, relatively small amounts of money – then what prospect is there of penetrating the walls of silence protecting a highly sophisticated and systemised embezzlement of hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of pounds?
Let me offer you the following strictly hypothetical example of such a scam, presented as a drama in three acts, featuring the following “cast of characters”.
Cast of characters
- Alf is a local authority big-wig in charge of assets and works.
- Barney is a project supervisor one rung lower on the hierarchical ladder in the same organisation.
- Charlie is the proprietor of a limited company that enjoys “preferred-contractor” status with the same local authority – and one or two other authorities in the region. Charlie frequently employs the services of certain carefully-selected sub-contractors:
- Dennis, Eddie and Fred are amongst Charlie’s “stable” of sub-contractors.
- Gerry, Harry and Ian are mid-ranking colleagues of Barney, at the same local authority.
- John, Kenny and Linda are elected members (Councillors) of the same local authority.
- Trevor works in Barney’s office.
- UltraSure Ltd is the local authority’s external auditor.
- Vince is the personnel manager at the local authority.
- WXY (Properties) Ltd is a low-profile property development company.
- Zelda is the wife of Alf.
Act One – Scene One
One fine day, Alf asks Barney to call “preferred-contractor” Charlie and ask him for a ball-park quote for a small construction or repair job that the local authority needs to address.
Charlie tells Barney that it will need a team of four workers and they will complete the work in three days. Should be around (say) £3,500, give or take. Barney verbally reports this information to Alf.
Alf (the top man, remember) now puts in a direct call to Charlie, and tells him to submit a written estimate based on a ten-day job (not three), in the amount of £17,500 – five times the realistic estimate.
In due course, Alf receives Charlie’s estimate and duly authorises the work.
Act One – Scene Two
Charlie sub-contracts Dennis to provide the four-man team and carry out the three-day job, at an agreed (and agreeable) price of, say, £5,000 (£1,500 over the odds). Dennis delivers.
Charlie then invoices the local authority for the agreed £17,500 and Alf duly authorises payment – out of which Charlie pays out £5,000, remember, to sub-contractor Dennis, as agreed.
Everybody is happy.
Dennis has received £5,000 for a £3,500 job. Nice work, if you can get it. Dennis is happy.
As things stand, Charlie has cleared a cool £12,500 for a couple of phone calls and a bunch of paperwork. Charlie is deliriously happy.
But what of Alf and Barney – who have made the whole thing possible but so far have gained nothing?
What’s in it for them? What will make them rapturously happy?
Act Two – Scene One
Alf, having authorised a £17,500 pay-out for job worth only £3,500, reckons that Charlie “owes” him a sizeable “kick-back” from that easy £12,500 that Charlie has “made” on the deal so far (having paid out £5,000 to Dennis, remember). Alf also figures that he needs to include a slice – say, £2,500 – with which to pay off his main man Barney, in reward for his small part in the production. How are Alf and Barney going to collect?
Since Charlie has been paid for a ten-day job, which actually took only three days, Alf reckons he is about seven days worth of work from a four-man crew “in credit” with Charlie.
Meanwhile, it so happens that Barney has learnt, in casual conversation at the golf club, that his friend Gerry (another mid-ranking officer of the local authority, in another department) has been shopping around for a good deal on having a car-port built at his home.
Barney mentions this to Alf, who suggests that Barney calls Charlie and asks him to price up the job to build Gerry a car-port.
Charlie suggests that (say) £8,000 would be a fair market price – but he will “arrange” for his sub-contractor Eddie to deliver the job at only £6,000, thereby providing Gerry with an exceptionally good value-for-money deal on his new car-port.
Alf then asks Barney to tip-off his fellow-officer Gerry that a “favourable” deal can be struck, if Gerry were to approach Eddie (the sub-contractor) directly – which Gerry duly does, thus leaving no trail leading back to Alf, Barney or Charlie, because Eddie in due course invoices Gerry, and Gerry pays up – a totally discreet transaction. They have concluded some very satisfactory business together and neither one of them is aware that anything other than “good connections” has lubricated the deal. Perhaps they have both been taught to be cautious?
So now Gerry is happy and so is sub-contractor Eddie, because Eddie is very willing to keep preferred-contractor Charlie sweet once in a while, since it is Charlie who keeps him (and Dennis and Fred) in very lucrative work on a regular basis. One hand washes the other.
But what about Alf and Barney? They still haven’t “cashed in” their chips . . .
Act Two – Scene Two
Alf and Barney have now got Gerry’s number – he has flagged himself up as one of those people who is not averse to picking up the odd “perk”; in this case, acquiring an eight-grand car-port for only six grand through his (privileged) connections and (in his own mind) his own superior acumen. Gerry is congratulating himself on having “graduated” to where the real action is. He is already looking forward to telling his wife that a conservatory is not beyond the bounds of possibility next year. Maybe a swimming pool in a couple of years’ time.
Encouraged by this very satisfactory turn of events, Gerry smugly tells his colleague Harry that he can probably fix him up with a terrific deal on the landscaping work he would like to have done in his back garden, and likewise his other colleague Ian (who has recently been talking about some very attractive improvements that he would like to make to his house).
And Councillor John has been dreaming about having some decking installed at his bungalow, with a built-in a hot-tub and maybe a gas-fired barbecue-range – why not? After all, Councillor John by now knows better than most on which side his bread is buttered.
All of these modest “wish-lists” can readily be fulfilled from the cornucopia primed and loaded by Alf, Barney and Charlie.
Business is booming. Everybody is happy!
Of course, everybody knows that they are getting a lot more bang for their bucks than the man-in-the-street – but, what the hell, they deserve it don’t they? They are shrewd. They have “connections”. They are “winners” – at the top of the pile. Masters of the universe!
And, of course, they are greedy – so they are hooked. Once is never enough.
Before long, they will find it difficult to resist the temptation to enjoy the use of Charlie’s time-share luxury-villa alongside that beautiful private beach of his in the Far East – gratis. What high-flyers they all are!
So Dennis, Ernie and Fred will not be blowing any whistles! And neither will those lucky Councillors – John, Kenny and Len.
They are “all in it together”, just like the man said.
Meanwhile, the local authority continues in regular need of various other works being carried out, and Alf, Barney and Charlie are busily engaged in priming the pump for the next round of “deals”.
Preferred-contractor Charlie is making a fortune, his sub-contractors Dennis, Ernie and Fred are all doing well, too –in regular work (perhaps Charlie “tops up” their prices for them with sweeteners of one sort or another) and benefitting from their burgeoning renown for delivering excellent work, at very reasonable prices, for some very distinguished clients.
But what about Alf and Barney? Surely there must be something in it for them – after all, they started the ball rolling and it would stop dead in its tracks without their continued “rubber-stamping”?
Act Three – Scene One
Alf is not silly. Alf is an educated and well-qualified man. Alf and his wife Zelda (for whom social-climbing is de rigueur, though by no means cheap) have a discreet little property development company – WXY (Properties) Ltd. Of course, Zelda only ever mentions her flair for interior-design and property enhancement to very carefully screened listeners.
Barney, with one eye on retirement, has established an almost invisible generic “consultancy” firm. As they do.
Together, Alf and Barney are very well-placed to seize upon bargain-basement property opportunities – repossessions, bankruptcies, hasty liquidations, and so on – properties with huge potential, but needing a great deal of work.
Fortunately, Alf and Barney are well “in credit” with Charlie, who “owes” them a great deal of “work” from all of the on-going “deals” that they have been turning, and now is the time for Charlie to deliver up Alf’s (and Barney’s) slice of the action. Soon, those bargain-basement properties are back on the market as high-end apartments commanding big prices. Zelda, the good shepherdess, points her flock in the right direction.
Alf and Barney are unperturbed by shelling out large chunks of Capital Gains Tax on these successful property transactions – no problem. After all, it is the public purse that has paid for all the “work”, anyway, so paying the Capital Gains Tax is only notional and is actually contributing to the apparent legitimacy of the entire operation. Soon, WXY (Properties) Ltd is investing in properties outside of the UK.
An off-shore company (with off-shore banking) is the logical next step – how did you think Charlie built that sumptuous villa in the Far East?
Life is sweet. A good time is being had by all . . .
Act Three – Scene Two
In a quiet corner of Barney’s office, it has taken underling Trevor quite some time to piece together Alf, Barney and Charlie’s neatly compartmentalised little game. He can understand now that most of the links in the chain do not really grasp how the rest of the chain is hooked up. He can also understand that the whole jar of worms rests on Alf and Barney’s cynical abuse of their employers’ (i.e. the public’s) trust to regularly siphon off significant sums of money from the public purse, whilst cleverly “laundering” it through a chain of “need to know” accomplices who know only their own rôles in the system – but whose complicity nevertheless suffices to guarantee their discretion.
Trevor is not a happy man. Trevor cannot sleep nights. Trevor knows that all this is very wrong – and he knows that knowing it and keeping schtumm is very wrong, too.
Trevor has been making himself ill with worry and indecision until, finally, urged on by his wife (and his GP), he decides in his naïvety to report what he knows through the local authority’s anonymous “whistle-blowing” procedure.
Enter Vince, the local authority personnel manager – the man responsible for directing anonymous “whistle-blower” investigations at the local authority. Vince and Alf have known each other for years.
Vince assures Trevor that he has done the right thing. UltraSure Ltd, the authority’s external auditor will now investigate, and the bad guys will have to face the music. Trevor’s identity will never be disclosed.
“Whistle-blower” Trevor is happy now – and so is Vince, the personnel manager. (Presently, we shall learn why).
Everybody is happy.
Alf (and his wife Zelda) and their main-man Barney are all deliriously happy and so is “preferred-contractor” Charlie, for whom that “preferred-contractor” status has been like the key to Fort Knox.
Sub-contractors Dennis, Eddie and Fred are all happy, too – plenty of work and loadsamoney.
Local authority officers Gerry, Harry and Ian are happy – they have all acquired a series of fabulous home-improvements at rock-bottom prices and some very enjoyable vacational experiences in the Far East, courtesy of Charlie and his luxurious time-sharing facility.
Councillors John, Kenny and Len are equally delighted.
And all of these guys are inwardly proud as Punch, revelling in the knowledge that they are really up there amongst the movers and shakers these days. The chosen few.
Little do they know that the UltraSure Ltd, the external auditors, are now on the case and the ordure is about to hit the fan.
Alf, however, has prepared for this contingency. He has already taken care of Vince the personnel manager, who has a taste for young oriental girls and particularly savours his holidays in the Far East.
So Alf knows that the information reported to Vince (by underling Trevor, the anonymous “whistle-blower” – whose name, by the way, Vince has already passed to Alf, for future reference) has been passed to UltraSure Ltd – and that is where the trail is destined to peter out.
Because Alf, thanks to his fairy godmother, is on the Board of Directors at UltraSure Ltd, so he is quietly confident that the investigation will find no evidence whatsoever of any wrong-doing.
And so the curtain falls on a three-act ploy that is apparently going down a storm – with no end in sight.
Although this is, of course, fiction – (do you believe that?) – it could be our most important article to date. If someone were to put all this together in real life, with names of real people, photos of real car-ports and real driveways, real facts and figures from the Open Data records of a real local authority, real dates and times of real flights to the Far East, and so on and so forth – and then present the entire shebang to the Police, then . . . then . . . then . . who on earth then could conceivably be in a position to sweep the whole putrid mess under the car-port?
Any use for an en suite cultured-marble jacuzzi, Officer?
I do believe I can feel a sequel coming on . . . perhaps I should invite ‘Trevor’ for a coffee and a sticky bun?