Sometimes fraud and stupid look the same. Ask yourself, “was it a stupid error or a probe for weakness?”
Thursday, April 23, 2015
The Puppet Goes to Jail
Something about the Phyllis and Marla Stevens embezzlement case did
not feel right, but I could not put my
finger on the inconsistency.
As you may know, I have been researching long-term
embezzlers that have been successful in avoiding detection for eight years or
longer. All of the individuals in my
study have been convicted in a court of
law and have served time in prison. Since
the majority of embezzlers are caught within three years, I’m trying to learn how
a few are able to avoid detection for a much longer time.
Phyllis Stevens was a home-grown Indianapolis resident
that had worked for a local insurance company and its successor Des Moines Iowa
organization for over thirty years. I
read Indianapolis news accounts, Advance
Indiana blog posts and, as I got deeper into the weeds, Des Moines Register articles by Tom Witosky, and court documents. Something
did not click.
I communicated with people that have known and worked with this same-sex
married couple, Phyllis and Marla Stevens.
I also exchanged emails with a fellow Certified Fraud Examiner and the FBI
Special Agent that put the federal case together. I am not a psychologist; therefore, I reached
out to my criminal psychologist friend, Paul Babiak, Ph.D., for help in sorting
it all out. Paul, the co-author of
“Snakes In Suits”[i], read
the background materials I sent him and referred me to sections in his book. The following is a summary of Paul’s writing
and other materials concerning the subject.
most attractive targets for puppetmaster con-men are women who are insecure,
lonely, self-viewed as flawed, and isolated from friends and family.
has a talent for “reading people” and making themselves non-threatening and
reassuring. Many are financial
parasites leeching their victims. By quickly identifying the target’s
weaknesses and “buttons,” they can appear to like and understand them. Their message reinforces
a fragile person’s self-perception, in effect, saying, “I like you just as you
the victim that they understand, like and appreciate them, is a powerful
validation and makes the victim feel very special. This often disarms their defenses.
The victims – the puppets – enjoy the
attention and, even if they suspect that they are being manipulated, often they
have been disarmed and may be afraid and embarrassed to stop the process. Some of the victims take on attributes of
abused spouses and blame themselves for their emotional abuse. The victims often take full responsibility
for the actions that were initiated by the puppetmaster.
In describing his role in the theft, one puppetmaster-offender
had this to say:
“At a church organization, a friend introduced me to this
plain looking, shy plump woman. We started to talk and to know each
other. I started to know her and,
because, the more she told me about herself, the more leverage I had. I listened.
The more I knew about this woman,
the more I know what buttons to push. So, I started pushing those buttons. She had a lot of unresolved issues from her
childhood, her sexuality, guilt, so I started to get her to feel her anger. She had suppressed anger and felt especially
very angry toward her employer.
I became her lover.
Later I said about her employer, “They have money. Lots of money. Why don’t you take some? I’ll help you spend
it because I’m your friend.” The
situation escalated, and I encouraged the
escalation. I don’t know if in the back
of my mind I truly believed what the capabilities were, but I did not care.
So it started to become a plan. I
just keep the feeling the fire, the more fuel I added to the fire the
bigger payoff for me and plus that sense of control, power. I became the puppetmaster pulling the
Puppet Goes to Jail
Indianapolis resident, Phyllis Stevens, received a six-year sentence for embezzling $6 million
from her employer and today remains, wheelchair-bound, in a Texas federal prison. Her same-sex spouse,
Marla Stevens, released last year, is now living in her old apartment complex in
Southside Indy’s Perry Township.
Phyllis took most of the blame for the crime and
testified that she lied to Marla.
However, according to some accounts,
Marla Randolph Stevens manipulated Phyllis Rowe Stevens into embezzling $6
million from Phyllis’ employer.
This decade-long criminal
series started at Indianapolis Life and continued after it was sold to Aviva. Phyllis transferred
to Des Moines continuing the embezzlement. Marla stayed behind in Indianapolis.
Was Marla the puppetmaster as some
Part II will be published next week and contain more
details about Marla and Phyllis Stevens' crime. Your comments will be welcomed.
Babiak, Ph.D. and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., Snakes
in Suits: when psychopaths go to work, (New York: HarperCollins, 2006) pgs 75,