You’ve seen Chris Graham in HBO’s McMillions docuseries. He’s a big reason the FBI cracked McDonald’s Monopoly game fraud case. In our interview he pulls back the curtain on exactly how the FBI does their interviews (interrogations) so they stand up in court. And he also talks about his work at Macerich shopping centers. You’ve been to their malls around the country. After listening to this you’ll never give a hard time to mall cops again.
Traci Brown: Chris, thank you so much for coming on Fraud Busting and taking a little bit of your time. Really truly, I am honored because I didn’t know if you would even call me back at all. Let me just tell the listeners a little bit about your awesomeness. If you’ve McMillions, which you can get on, I think, Hulu and Amazon and Netflix, that is a . . .
Chris Graham: And HBO.
Traci Brown: And where?
Chris Graham: HBO. I’ve got to plug HBO.
Traci Brown: HBO. Right. HBO. Chris is prominently featured as an investigator who helped bust the cheating and almost, I call it a Mafia takeover of the McDonald’s Monopoly game. He really knows his stuff. Now, you’re at Macerich, head of security in Macerich, y’all do malls, you own and operate malls. I want to talk about that a little bit as we get going because we have a little bit in common there. He has some other really cool stuff on his resume, like being involved in the Branch Davidians situation in Waco, which I was lucky or unlucky enough to kind of bump into that back when I was in college. Chris, welcome.
Chris Graham: Thanks, Traci, glad to be here.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Chris Graham: It’s wonderful, and it looks like we’ll have an interesting talk today.
Traci Brown: Oh, I’m already fascinated by what we’re going to talk about because I talked to Chris. I was like, “Chris, let’s talk about McMillions, about the HBO show.” He was like, “Let’s do better, Traci.” He goes, “Let’s talk all about investigative techniques.” I even want to talk about some of the things that you’re doing now at the mall in public because I think a pretty big majority of the country is affected by your decisions today when we go shopping. How do you want to take things, Chris? You want to just jump in? What’s your idea on the direction here?
Chris Graham: Yes. Let’s jump in. At the end we can talk a little bit about what’s going in shopping malls and security in shopping malls these days because it may change in the hour that we talk, it seems to me. It seems to be evolving by the minute.
Traci Brown: It’s a moving target.
Chris Graham: Yea, yea. You’re right. It does affect everybody and hopefully we’re pulling out of the down period. But now, what I thought about and wanted to put forth for your listeners was, just a little bit of background, I spent my whole career really with the FBI and a large part of it was working and investigating complex white collar crime cases and some high-level public corruption cases, including an independent counsel case back in the mid-1990s that many people have forgotten about. But through those assignments, I lost count. I probably did two or three hundred interviews. We use the term interview. In the FBI we use the term interview. We don’t use the term interrogation because the interview can be of a victim, it can be of a witness, and it can be of the subject of the case. There are some similarities amongst them all that I’ve picked up over the years. What I want to talk about today is really kind of the mechanics of doing a thorough, complete meaningful interview in a white-collar crime or a fraud case. I’m not going to get into your field of expertise, which is body deception and the physical things. I’m going to talk more about the way I get it and some tips and some opinions, of course, on what’s worked and what didn’t work.
Traci Brown: Perfect.
Chris Graham: That’s the agenda for today. I think it’s useful for not just law enforcement officers and fraud investigators, but the same tips and mechanics really can apply to anybody who might talking to somebody, even in a corporate setting, about an alleged fraud or white-collar crime. It could be somebody in an internal audit, it could be somebody in HR, it could be an executive. I like to say that when the FBI does a white-collar crime interview, the end goal is to have something that is sustainable in federal court, and that is a pretty high bar, but if you keep that as your goal, no matter what it is, I mean, it could be a minor internal employee embezzlement that may only result in a personnel action, but if you keep your standards at that highest level, you’re never going to have a problem where somebody is questioning the legitimacy or thoroughness.
Traci Brown: Ooh, I love that. Yes. Let’s jump in. What’s rule number one or your favorite way to frame up and interview with someone? By the time someone meets you, they’re in trouble.
Chris Graham: Yea. Maybe. I’m going to talk. We’ll start with the idea that, yea, this is somebody that’s in trouble, but remember, and I’ve had this happen, you’re talking to somebody who you’re doing an investigation, you’re talking to somebody who is potentially a witness, you think they’re a witness, no the main subject. You interview them and, low and behold, three months later, somebody says something about them, and documents turn up and it turns out that they are the subject. The same thing with maybe even a victim. You have to be cognizant a victim may end up on the stand in a trial, so you’ve got to consider that. One of the overall premises, again I keep using the term white-collar fraud interview, is it’s very tough to get a confession. Right. It would be nice, and it happens, but by and large, you’re dealing with people who are not inclined to let their guard down and confess. Many of these folks are smarter, they think they’re smarter than everybody else, and sometimes they might be. In many cases, they’re also very adept at lying and leading almost double lives sometimes. Getting somebody like that to fall on the sword and confess admit to a fraud and having done it is a pretty high bar. We’ll talk about when that happens or when it’s about to happen, but mostly I’m going to focus on the things you need to do, it’s almost a chess game, the things you need to do to box that person in in terms of what they say and what they don’t say and things like that. That’s the first kind of major point here or the ground rules. The second one, and it kind of ties into that a little bit, is in almost every fraud case you have to prove or show some guilt or knowledge from intent. That’s a high bar. It happens where people say, “Yea, I intended to defraud”, but those are rare. Usually there are excuses and other factors. You end up having to, again, build a case around what they did and effectively box them in.
Traci Brown: Got it.
Chris Graham: That’s kind of how I approach broadly these interviews, and that’s what we’ll talk about today. Let’s talk about, I’ve kind of broken it down into a couple of different stages. The first is obviously preparation. We’ll get into that. We’ll get into the actual interview, what I call setting the stage, and then then followup. Any questions?
Traci Brown: I am ready. I’m sure I’ll have plenty when you get into it. I feel like I’m chomping at the bit.
Chris Graham: It may not be as exciting as some of these other topics, but I think it’s worthwhile. Let’s talk about preparation. In fact, I really have three words for that. That is study, study, study everything you possibly can about the facts, as you know them, however incomplete, of the matter that you are getting ready to do an interview on. You have to, you have to commit those facts to memory and be able to recite them and know what they are and think quickly on your feet as they come up in the interview.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Chris Graham: All too often I see people, they kind of go in almost like a fishing expedition, and they’re looking for some sort of almost cherry from the person to help them understand. Well, the person, the subject, they’re going to help you understand, but they’re not going to know they’re doing it. You need to study, study, study and commit it to memory and practice, practice the facts, take notes, test yourself. That is, and again I see it all the time, I call it a ready, fire, aim approach. That will backfire almost all the time. Sometimes you get lucky but it’s not worth taking the risk.
Traci Brown: In some of these cases that I know you’ve worked on that have been months and maybe years long, how long would it take once you got someone actually in with you to prep?
Chris Graham: When you say get somebody in, the prep is before. The prep is really before you even call them or get them to come in and sit down or go to their office and sit down. Let’s say, for example, I made a phone call, and somebody has agreed to meet me to talk about a bank fraud. They can’t do it until . . . They might want to do it right away. They might say, “Yea, come over now” and then I don’t have time. I should have done my preparation and my memorization before. Maybe they say a couple days and then I can fine tune. But before I go in, and as an investigator, and there are lots of parts to cases, you really should have a firm knowledge of all the facts even before you sit down with someone.
Traci Brown: Got it. Okay. Okay. Next step. What do you do?
Chris Graham: Next step, you’ve got to know the elements of the crime that you’re trying to prove or show, whether it’s the violation of some company rule or all the way up the chain to federal mail fraud, if you haven’t looked at and know that there are elements that have to be covered in that interview, you’re doing half a job. You’re a C- student at that point. For example, mail fraud, a typical federal crime. It sounds easy. They filled out these forms. They knew they were false. They got money. Somewhere in there you’ve got to show that they put these forms in the mail, used the U.S. mail. Again, in the course of the interview there might be a question in there that says, “Oh, you mailed them? How did you mail them again?” It doesn’t always have to be the U.S. mail. It could be Federal Express but that’s just an example. Again, first thing is study, study, study, commit everything to memory, be able to think fast on your feet, next one is know the elements of the crime or the rule or the policy that you’re trying to investigate or are investigating, and then really the third one and this sort of leads into the sit down and preparation, and I’m a big fan of timelines. It is absolutely critical to understand the timing of things that happened. Inevitably in an interview, somebody may say “Well, I did this. I signed that form on a certain day.” It may turn out that the form wasn’t even delivered to them until a month later. The way to, for me anyway, I have to kind of visualize that. I have to see it on a timeline. I’ll always try to prepare, and I may not bring it into the interview with me. I might, but having a timeline, and again have it memorized. Somebody says something like that, and I’ll get into this a little more later, but somebody says something that doesn’t make sense on the timeline. But they’re telling a story. I’ve got them to be talking, which is sometimes a big challenge. I’ll have some thoughts on that later too, but I’ve got them to be talking. They say something that is inconsistent with my timeline. Do I stop them and challenge them there? No. My opinion is, and this is how I did it. I’ll getting into taking notes and stuff, but I would stare that statement. I would put a little asterisk in the column of my notes. That tells me that at some point I’m going to come back to that when the time is right. I don’t want to challenge somebody. Maybe they’re mistaken. Maybe it’s a mistake and I’m calling a liar unnecessarily, and I’ve submarined an okay, moving along interview.
Traci Brown: Right. Let’s talk about that a little bit because I help people find out who’s lying to them. The minute you say, “You’re a liar”, you do, just like you said, you tank the interview. You’re just starring it, coming back to it later, knowing more than what they think you know.
Chris Graham: Because they think, if they’re lying, they think they’ve got me. They think, I breezed through that. Later on when things heat up a little bit, first of all, they think I didn’t get it or maybe later on they think I forgot about it, but I’ve got that asterisk and I know that I’ve got to go back and recover it. Usually you see them with a little bit of a look on their face, like whoops. Yea. Fine lines. Again, still in the preparation phase. Outlines are helpful, although I’ve seen people walk into an interview with an outline of questions and they just sit there and read them off. If that’s how it’s going to be, you might as well just send the person an email with your outline and ask them to fill it out. It will be a lot easier for everybody.
Traci Brown: Oh, yea.
Chris Graham: I think the outline and the timeline go into your cramming for that exam, that studying that you’re going to need to have at the top of your mind, the tip of your tongue when the times comes. Just like a college exam, you had you go in there without the book. You better know your subject.
Traci Brown: Got it. I always tell people that because every now and then I’ll get an interrogation question, but I work with a lot of salespeople that have questions for their clients as well. I always say, if you just go down the list, you’re missing all the information that you really could extract there. You’ve got to stop and go down their path if you need to for a little bit until you can come back to yours.
Chris Graham: Yea. When I talk about the actual interview process and again, three words before, study, study, study. When you’re in that role and you’re going through the questions, it’s listen, listen, listen. There’s always time to go back and re-ask a question or clarify stuff. You’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to be patient to listen. Sometimes you might be listening to stuff that has nothing to do with the question you’ve asked. Again, I’ve seen it, a lot of times investigators get impatient. I don’t want to hear about your trip to Oregon. That’s not what we’re here to talk about. It might, and it might give you background on more information to fill in your timeline. Again, patience and listening. Still talking about preparation before we sit down with somebody, in this day and age it’s a lot easier to get a feel or handle on the personality than it was 15 or 20 years ago. Why do I say that? Well, it’s pretty easy now to get on Facebook or LinkedIn or any kind of social media and get a flavor of what this person is writing about themselves. Somebody who has no social media presence probably tells you they’re private and they’re not going to be as wordy or verbose as somebody who has got their own website or somebody who’s talked about all the wonderful things they’ve done or somebody who’s all over Facebook with posts on everything under the sun. That works to your benefit. You know going in, okay, I’m going in to somebody who is going to talk, talk, talk, or I’ve got somebody who has ranted about the government or. . .
Traci Brown: Right, right.
Chris Graham: Again, if you’re an investigator and you have those sources at your fingertips and it’s available and you don’t take advantage of it, again, as I say, you’re a C- student.
Traci Brown: Got it. Okay. You’ve prepped. You know the story. You know your subject. What comes next?
Chris Graham: Now we’re setting the stage. This varies. It varies from case to case, from person to person. It really just depends. That’s really all I can say in terms of okay, do we invite them into the office? Do we go to their office? Do we go to their house? It’s kind of all over the ballpark and really again it depends a lot on the case and the person. But, there are a few things, you get a question here and there, should I have or should I bring all my files to have handy? Well, if you do, you better damn sure have them very well organized and know and be able to, at a moment’s notice, flip to a page using a tab or something like that, because again a lot of this is a bit of a power play. If you’re talking to a subject or a fraudster, you want them to believe, and this is so obvious and common sense, you want them to believe that you know more about them than they know, more about the crime than they know, and that you’re impeccably organized. You start fumbling around with a folder and you can’t find what you’re looking for, you’re better off just leaving it at home. If you’re going to bring them, and you might need to, I mean, there may be very important times elements of a crime where somebody says, “Well, I signed. Yea, I did. I remember I signed that form.” Okay, that’s great. You probably need to show them the form and lock them into their signature. They’ve already said they signed it. Now, that can backfire because now you might be giving them an out and they say, “Huh, that’s not my signature.” Well, you just said you signed it.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Do you ever do the tactic where you have a stack of folders, you put your hand on it as you ask a question, know that you don’t have the answer, but making them think that the answer’s in that set of files? Ever done that?
Chris Graham: Oh yea. Yea. That’s some of the trickery that goes into it. I used to work a lot of telemarketing cases, these boiler rooms where they would, and these guys were – what’s the word? I’d use a profanity, they were pieces of crap.
Traci Brown: Yea. Scum of the earth.
Chris Graham: Scum of the earth, pieces of crap, because they preyed on lonely, desperate old people and would literally terrorize them over the phone to send more money. You’re a loser. You’re so close to winning this contest and you’re in the final round. What do you mean you can’t pay the taxes? We might get a tape or two of that, somebody’s kid may have come into the house and was able to tape record one’s phone calls or they were the result of some undercover or something we were doing. Well, bringing these people in, and I may have one tape. Well, that’s not too impressive. What is impressive is a wall full of 100 tapes that all say the same thing. I may say, I’ve got recorded for the last year.
Traci Brown: Oh, boy.
Chris Graham: Look at all these tapes. Every one of these is you. Pick one. You pick one and we’ll play it. Of course, no matter which one they pick, it’s going to be one we play. It’s the one tape I have. Sometimes they’ll pick up on that. Yea, to answer your question, you stage stuff up, but again, know your interviewee. Be confident it’s not going to backfire and you’re going to have egg on your face.
Traci Brown: Got it. Got it. Okay. What’s next.
Chris Graham: Where are we at? Okay. We’re into the interview process. This is getting into a little bit of the panics, but we’re sitting down with somebody and we’re starting to talk. There are some questions you can ask. You want to get them talking. Listen, listen, listen. But mechanically, this is again I think really critical, different people have different techniques, some people record interviews. I’m not a big fan of that. It kind of depends on the circumstances. Sometimes you need to, but often in white-collar crime cases there is enough other information and the ultimate rapport and description sometimes is too complicated to just have a transcript of a recording which is going to have to be transcribed. I say you have got to learn to take almost shorthand notes and know what they mean to you. I’m asking a question. I’m making eye contact. I’m listening. I might periodically glance down to jot down a word or a symbol or a couple words that I know I can go back and understand what they are. Abbreviations, I use K for contract. Sometimes I’ll use an arrow to link one thought to the next. Therefore, the three dots . . ., a triangle.
Traci Brown: Yea. I use that one.
Chris Graham: You know. Things like that because the idea is you want to keep the flow going, but yet get sufficient information. There’ll be time later that afternoon or the next day to sit down and go through that, go through your notes and write it up. It’s a tough skill to master. I’ve seen people start. They start writing down verbatim what the person said. That’s almost never a good thing. Now, there are times where if somebody makes a statement that you need to capture that statement. They said something and I want to have that in quotes. Of course, write that down. Put it in quotes so you know later on when you’re writing it up, Ms. Brown stated the following: “ . . .” and then you have it down.
Traci Brown: Got it. Got it. Okay, okay.
Chris Graham: I mentioned I use the two columns. I have my column on the right side for notes and what the person’s saying, and then on the left side might by my asterisks or a note to myself, doesn’t make sense, check timeline, things like that that I’ll go back to. I talked about the importance of not really interrupting. People tend to do that. They get impatient. If you’ve got somebody talking, I’d say just let them go. Let them talk. Listen as close as you can, write it down. Again, don’t get glued to an outline. Here’s kind of a separate sort of an important subset technique in a white-collar or fraud interview. I call this a need to elicit subjective responses. What does that mean? I may ask a question. Was the loan approved? The answer is yes or no.
Traci Brown: Yes or no. Yea.
Chris Graham: When was it approved? March of 2020, something like that. Okay. That’s all well and good, but I may have somebody who’s not talking a lot, and even if they are, I always ask a question to elicit a subjective response about that question. A prosecutor I worked with taught me this, and I saw him do it a lot. It really was almost magical. Somebody would say something like that and it may not even be something as clear as, was the loan approved?, or something like, well, he wouldn’t meet with us, or something. He seemed to be hesitant to meet with us. We would always ask, “Okay. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?”
Traci Brown: Oh, that’s interesting.
Chris Graham: Okay. Inevitably, it kind of catches people, like they’ve got to think about it. It can be one or the other. It could be something in the middle. They may say “neither.” It’s amazing what the responses are because then you start to see, that starts to go to the building of, I call it, the castle of guilty knowledge or intent.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Chris Graham: They say, “Well, it was a good thing.” “Why?” “Because we got the money to build the project.” What did that lead to? Again, I think don’t get stuck on factual, objective either/or kind of questions. You’ve got to ask them, but always try to follow with what can I get in a subjective or an emotional response from the person.
Traci Brown: Oh, I love that. That is gold right there. No wonder it works so well. I can see it working great.
Chris Graham: I’m kind of flying along here, but I guess it’s all. . .
Traci Brown: We’re doing good. We’re doing great.
Chris Graham: Okay. Good. Next topic in this realm, I call it, for anybody who’s done these interviews, you’ll get people who, when the questions get tough, and the questions start getting close to what they maybe don’t want to talk about, all of sudden they have trouble remembering or they’re vague. Okay, maybe it’s true. Maybe they legitimately don’t remember or their memory is bad, but this is kind of a courtroom trick or a courtroom technique, but it really applies more in an interview or even a polygraph per se is you need to assess the person’s memory and ability to recall details in something that is nonthreatening.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. Get their baseline. Absolutely.
Chris Graham: You develop that baseline. I say you plan that in advance. For example, it might be, “Hey, you started this job a couple years ago. Tell me about your first day on the job. That sounds interesting.” They’ll get into all kinds of. . . “Oh yea, and then Tommy took me to lunch and we ate at the Cheesecake Factory.” “Wow, Cheesecake Factory. I like that. What did you eat?” “Yea, their steak fries are really good.” They’ll remember things like that, they’ll remember all kinds of details. You start getting into the uncomfortable things and now they can’t remember, so you know, okay I know that I’m in an area that this person probably knows more and they’re just not willing to tell me.
Traci Brown: Oh yea. That happens too in depositions. You have watched the Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes case. She said, “I don’t know 608 times in her deposition of six hours. She didn’t know a damn thing when she got in there, but she had it all figured out before then. Yea.
Chris Graham: I did see that. It’s funny. I get it. I’m not a lawyer, but there is a reason for them to ask 600 questions and lock her down into an answer so later on when there’s a trial or something, it kind of makes it hard to answer the same question in a way that benefits you when you say “I don’t know” two months ago and now you know. Yea. It’s the same thing with interviews. You put down you don’t know, and I may ask why. Again, I may start to get a little confrontational. It really kind of depends. I might point that out that, you seem to remember some things really well and this thing which is really important to you . . .
Traci Brown: No clue.
Chris Graham: Yea. This is pretty important. This is why we’re here and this affects your situation, and you’re having a lot of trouble remembering. Why is that?
Traci Brown: Wow. Okay, okay. What’s next? Oh, this is good. I love this.
Chris Graham: Again, kind of a common sense thing, people often forget to follow up and ask good questions. Somebody may say, “I wrote him a note” or whatever. That’s not a good example. “I took a phone call from him.” Okay, that’s great. Time? Date? What did they say? Was the phone call a good thing or a bad thing? Hey, where is that? Do you have phone records? Where is that documented? Did you get a phone bill? Is there something on your phone log that shows that? And get it. So much of everything we do now is captured and documented.
Traci Brown: Oh yea.
Chris Graham: Again, it is very important to follow up and ask the question and get as much back as you can. They may say, “No. It’s destroyed. We shred all our stuff.” Okay. I write that down. That means later on they can’t walk into court and say, “Oh here look, here are the phone records and it shows something else.” You said you shred it. Nail down the documentation.
Traci Brown: Got it. Okay.
Chris Graham: In no particular order, mostly I’m talking about somebody who is a subject or a suspect, maybe even people who are witnesses that are involved, they may or may not be involved, but let me talk a little bit about victims and the importance of knowing your victim. Victims are generally somewhat sympathetic. There’s often a sympathy factor going on with the investigator and the victim, and it should be, but it’s important to understand that your victim at some point may be testifying in a trial or a deposition against somebody who is not going to be friendly to them.
Traci Brown: Sure.
Chris Graham: Really kind of two things, and that is, as politely as you can, test that victim’s ability to withstand a little bit of uncomfortable questions. It’s better to know it before they get in front of a grand jury or even a jury and fall apart. If they’ve got problems, if they’ve done thing wrong, as best you can, get a handle on it. One of the cases I’m familiar with and I know you guys have done a lot of Ponzi scheme, investment scheme stuff . . .
Traci Brown: A little bit. Yea, yea. I talked to a good friend of mine who got sucked into one of those. What do you know?
Chris Graham: Yea. One of the things that has to be, you’ve got to consider in an investment case is, let me try to explain this right. If somebody is a victim and they are let’s say a somewhat sophisticated investor and they’ve got accounts at Charles Schwab and Fidelity and all kinds of other accounts and every month they get a big long statement that has all kinds of disclosures, is professional, and they can go on a website and they can see their earnings. There is an 800 number to call. Then they get involved in a Ponzi or an investment scheme that is overseas and they end up getting a one-page spreadsheet printout from the “financial advisor”, that person is going to get questioned on the stand. Wait a minute, don’t you see any difference here? It doesn’t excuse the fraud, but it can dirty up the case. Didn’t it seem odd to you that you got this one-page paper and you continued to invest money and yet, that same month you got four statements from Fidelity and Charles Schwab that were 15 pages long? You should have known better. Some of the good fraud investigators, especially in investment cases, I’ve worked, they would always ask their victims, what other investments do you have? Oh, okay. Can you bring those statements in as well? Again, it’s almost fair to them. You want to protect them from walking up, getting on the stand, thinking that this is all going to be a walk in the park, and then they get butchered.
Traci Brown: Yea. It’s tough up there. I’ve been on the witness stand once in a case. I had a tenant who had an altercation with another tenant. I’d never been on the stand before. It was even before I was in this line of work. It is tough up there. They do their best to make you look like a fool. There’s no doubt about that.
Chris Graham: Oh, yea. Yea. I’ve spent a lot of time, and it’s funny because if you’re, not funny, but if you’re an investigator and you’re getting questioned, you can almost see it coming, like you start seeing them go down a road of questioning, and I know where this is going. The best bet is let’s answer this question and move on. I can tell stories all day. I had a case once, and again it was a telemarketing case. I was on the stand for days. We had some cooperating persons and informants working within this boiler room. We had instructed them never, never, never do any sales. You can’t get on the phone. You can participate in the criminal conduct. You can’t get on the phone and defraud there. You can work there. You can be an admin person, be close to all that, but that’s it. We end up going to trial and there are these massive sales logs that are the old dot matrix printouts that thick. The defense attorney asked and asked me about the cooperator. Let’s call her Marge. “You’re saying you instructed Marge to not sell, right?” “Yes.” “And you’re saying that she didn’t sell?” “Yes.” “Would it surprise you if she . . .” I could see it and it dawned on me that somewhere in that 800-page dot matrix printout they had found a sale or two that she had done. It didn’t tank the case, but I could see it coming. As soon as I was asked, “To the best of my knowledge, but I can’t say that it never happened.” I almost screwed up. I almost said, “I can’t say that sales register’s accurate” because we were relying on that for the total loss on the case. That comes down to being able to think ahead and think on your feet. Anyway, yea. Again, that’s the whole testimony, you don’t want to put your victims and your witnesses in a position that they’re not prepared for.
Traci Brown: Got it. Got it.
Chris Graham: We’re done with the interview. Now what?
Traci Brown: Yea. What happens?
Chris Graham: We’ve got pages and pages of notes, and we’ve got some good information. We’ve got some other stuff. Before we get into that, let’s talk a little bit about confession. Sometimes, every so often, it’ll happen in a fraud case. There is usually a buildup to it. You see it starting to come out, but it’s never out of the blue, I in fact intended to defraud 18 U.S.C. 1001.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Chris Graham: It’s this, little by little coming about. Sometimes they need a little push to get to that point. There are a lot of ways to do it. A couple things I would say would be, “Hey, look, first of all, you’re too close to this. You’re too close to the billboard to read what it says. Take a step back and look at this whole picture. You’re fixating a little fact here, a little fact there, something you didn’t do. But if you step back, you see the whole picture and it tells a story. See the billboard? You can’t read the billboard when you’re three inches away from it. Step back and look at it the way a jury or prosecutor would.” That is one way. Then in a fraud case, usually nobody’s wounded or dead. Sometimes that carries some weight. You can say, “Look, this is only money. Only things. It can be replaced. Nobody’s dead. Nobody’s bleeding. You’ll get through this. This is fixable.” Sometimes that’s all they need. Again, put it in perspective because they’re thinking their life has ended or they’re going to fight this to the bitter end.
Traci Brown: Right.
Chris Graham: Ya’ll know the trick, “Get this off your chest, you’ll feel better.” That seems kind of cliché-ish. To the point, usually in a white-collar case, I’m going to ask, we get to the point where, “I’m the one who did x, y, and z, and I knew it was wrong.” I’m usually going to ask, let’s try to this. Why don’t you write this out? Let’s try to get a written statement of how you feel about this today and what you did. This is the time to move on. This is an important part, a crossroad in your life. You’re making the right decision. Let’s memorialize it. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
Traci Brown: Right, right.
Chris Graham: That’s all we can do. Let’s go back. We’re talking about you come back to the office or wherever it is, you’ve gone back to your office. Now you’ve got pages of cryptic notes and abbreviations and all kinds of stuff. What do you do? It doesn’t mean anything to anybody except you, so it’s time to write it up. This is how I would do it. If I use a blue pen in the interview, I would get a red pen or a different colored pen and go through my notes, on my notes right after, and clarify or spell out things that I thought I knew while my memory’s fresh.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Chris Graham: Then the question is, you took notes during the interview, didn’t you? Yes, I did. Those are the blue notes. The blue ink that you see are the ones I took during the interview. The red notes are addendums and other things that I wrote down immediately after that interview, or two hours later when I got back to the office. There’s no question about memory, about did I add stuff. A lot of times in trials, at least in federal trials, defense attorneys will get your notes. They’ll get your notes, so you better have them, and you better be able to explain them because they’ll pick them apart. Ultimately, you’re going to a write up, a report. That’s like a grammar lesson, a pretty boring topic.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Chris Graham: The writing format. I used to really drive my agents crazy with writing. Make sure you write in the active, don’t write in the passive. Don’t write in the present tense. Don’t use so many commas. Acronyms are helpful, but not too many, on and on and on. That’s a whole other topic. Different organizations have different rules, but I think for the most part an interview gets written up in some report in some way, shape, or form. The more professional that can be, and it has to tie into the notes. If there’s a whole paragraph of stuff in there that’s not in the notes, you better be prepared to explain it. That’s okay. It happens. He said that. It stuck in my mind. I didn’t have time to write it down, but I remember it. Here’s another thing, and I kind of jumped over this. This goes back to the set up and the prep. If we were doing an interview and I’m writing it up the way I describe. It’s you and I. I’m taking a bunch of these notes and then I’m typing them up or having it typewritten, and that report gets submitted to my HR department or the head of internal audit or to the prosecutor or something. It’s still your word against mine.
Traci Brown: Right. Right.
Chris Graham: I can say, no, no, no. Here are my notes. He said it. It comes down to a question of credibility. Who’s telling the truth? I always recommend you have a second person there. They don’t have to be really involved. They should know what’s going on. That’s your witness so to speak. Again, it just helps.
Traci Brown: Wow. That is a lot.
Chris Graham: That is my 50 or 48-minute lesson on white-collar interview tips and tricks.
Traci Brown: That is a master class. I’ve learned some of this because I’ve taken some interrogation classes with the FBI and police. You never learn everything in there. You the man. Awesome.
Chris Graham: White-collar stuff is a little different. It’s more complicated. The people are much less willing to tell you something. I’ve done interviews with murderers, with pedophiles, for some reason, they’re more likely to get an easy confession or facts out of them than dancing around for hours with somebody in corporate finance who’s embezzled $500,000 because in their mind there is a lot more at stake. They feel like they are smarter than you. They might even feel like they were entitled to it. It’s all confusing.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Chris Graham: In white collar, you really start getting into a little more of what you see in depositions and trial preparation in the complicated cases. As an investigator, you can develop those skills and have reports that sail through and are meaningful for whoever it is. You really earn your pay.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. This is fantastic stuff. I’ve just got to take a couple seconds. We’re going to change the subject. Let’s talk about the mall. Let’s talk about what’s going on at the mall. You’re the head of security for Macerich. I’ve worked with you all – I think it was before you were there – to put on a festival. Even in our exchanges, I didn’t realize how . . . like everyone makes fun of mall cops. There are movies about it and everything. Tell us what you all are doing moving forward at the mall based on all this mess that’s going on now with the virus. Things are starting to open back up in bits and pieces. What’s your primary concern these days and what can we expect, at least now, when we go to the mall?
Chris Graham: I hope you do go to the mall. We’ll see. I think it depends from state to state what’s going on. Some of them are already starting to get busy. Back to your point about mall cops, you’re right, they get a bad rap. I’ve come to really respect and appreciate these guys and gals and what they do because there is that stigma. They take a lot of crap sometimes from people, unfairly. They’re not paid very well. Many of them have other aspirations, but for some of them, that’s their job. As the public, as businesses, we expect them to do everything. We expect them to be the jack of all trades. We expect them to run toward a problem. We expect them to respond and act is shooter situations, deal with fires, deal with sicknesses. We’ve had numerous instances where our security staff has had to perform CPR on people. They deal with, up where you are, the homeless and transient population is a problem. At the same time, we expect them to be good ambassadors and helpful and assist the shoppers in a pleasant, courteous way. That’s a pretty high bar.
Traci Brown: It really is.
Chris Graham: I’ve really come to respect them. Now we’ve added another element to their job, which is we want you to keep working in the mall, you’re going to be exposed to people, you’re going to wear a mask. That’s required now almost everywhere, and that’s what we’re going to do. You have this other difficult responsibility and that is try to, as best you can, make people in the mall feel safe, enforce – enforce is a tough word, but monitor and be on top of social distancing. In some places, there are requirements that people wear masks and you we expect you to address that. It’s a challenging time. The amount of effort and planning and thoughtful discussion and meetings that have gone into preparing our properties to re-open is really, from my perspective, pretty impressive. It’s very different from strict investigation and security and things I’m used to. What to expect? If you’ve gone, there are a lot of stores that are open, some of the big box stores and the grocery stores. Hopefully we can see that level of foot traffic and sales in the traditional mall. People I think want to get out still, get out of the house. You can only order so much stuff online. Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. I can say on behalf of the company that there has been the highest priority put on sanitation, safety, and security of our business. I know that sounds fake. I know that sounds like a press release, but it’s not. It’s coming from what I’ve experienced over the last two months.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. I’ve got to tell you, I feel better about going to the mall. I won’t make fun of mall cops anymore. I shouldn’t say that I did that a lot. I actually feel better knowing you a little more and knowing your expectations of them and more about what their job really is. We just don’t think about it when we just want to go in and buy a shirt. Chris, thank you so much for coming in. This really has been a master class. I know why those people who game the McDonald’s system did not get away with it. With you on the other side, I would not want to go up against you for any reason in any kind of investigation. Thank you so much.
Chris Graham: Thank you. I appreciate it. It was fun. I enjoyed it. Anything I can do to spread some tips and knowledge, I’m happy to do it.
Traci Brown: Oh yea. We’ll do it. Be careful, I’ll have you back.
Chris Graham: Absolutely. We have other topics to talk about. Let me know.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. We’ll do it.