Business Tip: Never Compromise Ethical Practices

No reward is worth the risk. 

A few weeks ago I saw an episode of “60 Minutes” about ethics in law. With CBS cameras in tow, Global Witness, a company that investigates international corruption, went undercover and posed as a representative of a millionaire from another country seeking to launder money in the U.S. Without knowing the name of the millionaire, or the source or legitimacy of his money, no fewer than 16 New York lawyers looking to earn a big piece of the pie were up to the (illegal) task.

Only one out of the 16 lawyers refused outright to take the case. He asked all the right questions and said this wasn’t for him. When the Global Witness investigator/fake representative asked for a referral, the lawyer stood his ground and said it would be an insult to respectable lawyers to refer him. Of course, none of the lawyers who would engage in illegal activity were officially under investigation, because no money was exchanged, or contract signed. But it’s interesting to see how easy it is for dirty money to enter the country and what some of the lawyers were willing to do, or rationalize doing, to earn that high- ticket fee, because let’s face it — a case like this is a $50,000 to $100,000 retainer, just to start.

Unethical lawyers aside, the segment is really eye-opening and worth a watch. You can watch it here.

You might be wondering why I chose to share this. It’s simple: No amount of money is worth compromising ethics. I would know, too. When I was starting out, I didn’t know how prevalent unethical practices were. So when a tax protester came to me saying that the income tax was illegal (a belief held by millions, mind you), I took the case. But it didn’t take me long to realize that protesters only wanted me to legitimize their argument, not help them settle with the IRS, at which point I would then refund their money. Eventually, I learned how to have my front desk ask the right questions when protesters called so they could be told from the start that our office didn’t handle those kind of cases.

But even before I had my own business, I was in a situation for one of the companies I was hired as a CFO for to help take the company public. Within a short amount of time, I discovered the owner was cooking the books and inflating sales figures! When I told him he wasn’t allowed to do that, he played dumb and said it wouldn’t happen again. Then, of course, it did. I confronted him a second time. He tried to bribe me with a bigger stake in the IPO, offering not to say anything. When I said no thanks, he became angry. He yelled at me and threatened me. After he threw his temper tantrum, I went back to my office, packed up my briefcase and took my Rolodex (which I consider very valuable), and my framed CPA license, and left without a word.

No amount of money in the world should sway you to do something that isn’t right, no matter which way you think you can justify it. Some things in business, accounting, or law are gray areas, and as professionals, it’s important to represent our clients in the most ethical way possible and find the best deal; just don’t risk your license for a tempting offer. The interesting thing is, cases like the ones I experienced are more common than you think.

As you move forward with your existing or new tax resolution practice, be sure to put in the steps to qualify a client, or settle a case within the law, and don’t get caught up in the moment. And if you don’t know what questions to ask, give us a call. We’re happy to help you keep your good name. Because no amount of money is worth the risk.

michael rozbruch tax and business solutions academy