Quiet-crime victims assaulted by deceit
October 23, 1991

The psychological damage done to victims of violent crime is undisputed. But the trauma suffered by white-collar crime victims is largely ignored.

That is the hypothesis of marriage and family counselor Karin Huffer. She calls them the "walking wounded" and believes many are suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that is actually intensified by the brush-off that victims of white-collar crime commonly receive when they turn to bureaucratic governmental agencies for protection and redress.

After years of experience with diverse support groups, she concluded there is a common thread linking the many clients who do not seem to entirely heal even though their apparent "problem" is being addressed, whether it be alcohol abuse, low self-esteem or a difficult divorce. What they share is a prior history of victimization in a situation that was ignored or worsened by the justice system. Their immediate problem does not easily heal because it's a way they cope with the victimization.

Embezzlement, credit-card scams, insider securities trading, false advertising, fraud-related failure of an S&L, cronyism, slander and commissionectomy — which occurs when one sales person does all the work on a sale, but a different party wins the commission through some technicality. These are just a handful of the non-violent, or quiet crimes, that appear on a list that Huffer has compiled for a book she is writing on the subject.

Some crime victims are assaulted by violence. The walking wounded have been assaulted by deceit. The pain is worsened when the perpetrator is someone the victim has trusted — whether it be a family member, business associate, attorney or ex-spouse.

But the crowning blow comes when public institutions — such as the court system or insurance industry — are either indifferent to the victim's plight or seem to side with the perpetrator, who often has the foresight to prepare a slick story to defend himself.

"[Psychiatrist Elisabeth] Kubler-Ross has said death is the most profound loss. I think the loss of trust in those entities that protect you is the most profound loss," says Huffer, who has been a licensed therapist in Nevada since 1972. In addition to working in private practice, she has been a consultant to Juvenile Court Service and the Clark County School District.

Huffer explains the usual sequence of events for a victim of quiet crime. "First, the crime happens — and that's 'tough luck'. We all go through it. The first emotions are sadness, loss, anger, hopes you can get something back."

"When affronted, people turn to law enforcement, or they ... get an attorney. Then they run into huge expense. Now, you've been ripped off. The criminal has your money." That makes it hard for the victim to afford the services of an investigator or lawyer. The perpetrator, in contrast, has been "enriched and empowered" by the coup over the victim.

"You're suffering the first stages of grief," Huffer continues. "The other guy has no emotion about this. You're suffering. But you're greeted with [coldness and] objectivity" not just from the adversary, but also from representatives of the institutions contacted by the victim.

An organization may decline to investigate a case because the dollar sum in dispute is not large enough. Or a case may lack "jury appeal." Or the spokesman may tell the victim his or hers is just one among thousands of similar complaints.

"You start getting afraid. Hope starts to fade. But you're still enraged and outraged."

At this point, according to Huffer, a perpetrator may intensify his defense by attacking the victim. In court, for example, the perpetrator's attorneys may be more skilled than the victim's. The perpetrator may actually be in collusion with his or her attorneys.

So, the crimes may begin to mount. Perjury and forgery may be committed to strengthen the initial lies. "Then you've got slander and other issues," says Huffer, referring to ripples in the victim's social milieu. Parties not connected at all with the incident may spread misinformation.

All along, the victim operates under a handicap from which the perpetrator is free. Most people are what Huffer terms "shame-based." That is, they have a sense of right vs. wrong, and a sense of personal responsibility. It is hard for them to fathom that someone could, in cold blood, do them wrong. Their emotionality can hamper them from being effective in the courtroom or before other authorities.

The perpetrator, in contrast, frequently has a "superior-based" mentality; namely, a smug conviction that he or she does not need to live by the rules. Huffer says, "It's the Ivan Boeskys, the Charles Keatings I'm talking about."

And, manipulating others is the perpetrator's usual way of relating to others. He or she shrewdly capitalizes on the victim's emotional confusion.

After the victim's cause fails in the first legal forum, the matter may advance to an appeals court or a regulatory body, such as a securities commission.

As the battle continues, the victim's financial resources dwindle, which is what the perpetrator has counted on. If a victim contacts a member of Congress to reform a law, because he feels he was injured due to a loophole, he is likely to be told that legislative matters cannot be mingled with an ongoing judicial matter, such as a court appeal.

By the time of legal defeat, the victim's lifestyle probably has materially changed. Credit may be ruined, a home may have been foreclosed on.

Eventually, the victim is totally demoralized.

Says Huffer, "The person keeps saying, 'What is a person of principle to do in society today?' At this point they're beyond rage. It's stark helplessness. They've lost their sense of justice. Their belief system is in disarray. Instead of an expression of rage, it's an implosion," or turning inward. The victim may take up drinking, or otherwise isolate himself from others.

Self-doubt is very strong among victims. They may not want to discuss their experience with others, even though venting can be therapeutic. They are embarrassed to have been duped — unlike "innocent" victims of violent crime — and don't want to be perceived as stupid or foolish.

The symptoms of the post-trauma stress may now appear. Victims can be in a state of physical and mental exhaustion.

While victims of violent crime can sometimes be partially compensated for their losses through a victims' fund, a victim of quiet crime rarely has that option, notes Huffer. Deteriorating health also may be related to the trauma, such as severe depression. But it may never be acknowledged by an insurance company as such, making coverage of treatment sometimes harder to obtain.

Huffer is the first to admit that she has not yet scientifically studied the phenomenon. But she is encouraged by the results of an open lecture she gave on the topic in the summer. "I got a tremendous response," she recalls of a one-night talk, "Beyond Rage," which she gave at Montevista Hospital. "I expected 10 [in the audience]. There were 47 reserved."

Her interest in the topic arises partly out of Huffer's personal experience. She says her husband, who was involved in property development, suffered the loss of a $5 million estate (even though debts amounted to only $2 million) due to actions of parties that were never found guilty of fraud. The legal process lasted seven years, resulting in dismissal of the Huffers' suit.

Yet, she tries to minimize the personal dimension. "As a therapist, I have to be careful to make sure I'm not projecting my feelings [onto clients]."

Recently, Huffer has been involved in the formation of a local grass-roots group that calls itself VICTRE, which stands for Victims of Invisible Crime, Treatment, Restoration and Education. The group is networking with similar organizations in California, Arizona, Texas and Connecticut. She says its plans include formation of a support group and other activities, such as monitoring of courts.

To continue studying the question of quiet crime, Huffer invites members of the public who believe they have been victimized to participate in a survey. Those interested in learning more about VICTRE or the survey can call 593-9925 [number defunct].

Scam cost Las Vegas woman more than her money

When therapist Karin Huffer trolled the community for victims of quiet crime, one of the people she located was M.J. Rattray.

Rattray attended a "Beyond Rage" lecture that Huffer gave last summer, and was startled to learn how well she herself fit the bill.

"I loved the title," recalls Rattray. "It's like, somebody understands."

"It doesn't matter how 'good' you are. Or how smart you are. How educated you are. There is no immunity," warns Huffer about the specter of being victimized by a white-collar scam.

Disabled after a bout with spinal cancer, Rattray no longer works. But after her illness, she did complete a doctorate in psychology. And in her healthy years, she had sold insurance and taught high school.

And yet, she was duped.

Her story dates back to the early 1980s. She had loaned $3,000 to a close relative in need. When time came to pay her back, he gave her, instead, stock that he said was valued at $5,000. The relative, whom she declined to name, assured her the value would rise rapidly. He even wrote and signed a statement that if it did not reach a certain value within a set amount of years, he personally would pay her $10,000.

Rattray read the extensive literature provided with the stock certificates and started anticipating a nest egg that would nicely supplement her Social Security disability pension. At her relative's urging, she even bought a second block of stock for another $5,000.

The relative, she recalls now with a touch of irony in her voice, "was always there when [he heard] you had extra money."

The company was called National Resource and Development Co., and claimed to have developed a versatile, high-efficiency, low-pollution fuel called trylene gas.

But within several years, National Resource sought to merge with another business. Rattray attended a stockholders meeting, where members voted to approve the move, which was conditioned on an exchange of five shares of stock in the new company for every single share of original stock. The new corporation was renamed KemGas International Inc.

That's when the problems began. Rattray never received her new stock certificates. No annual meetings were held. No annual reports were published. Repeated inquiries to the company's officers flushed out a story that, in a criminal act, too many shares of original stock had been issued. No new certificates could go out until it was determined which people held valid shares in the original company.

The company's song and dance was elaborate, Rattray says. "We would call ... and the secretary would say, 'It's in the court. We expect a decision Friday.' or 'It's in the mail.' But nothing ever came, nothing ever happened."

In the meantime, she began contacting governmental agencies. She approached the securities commissions of Nevada, Arizona and Utah — she lived in Nevada, the first company was based in Arizona, the president of the post-merger company was located in Utah — to no avail. Each commission claimed another state had jurisdiction. Recalls Rattray, "It ended up [with them saying], 'Get yourself an attorney."'

Lacking spare funds to hire a lawyer, Rattray teamed up with a local friend who had also purchased stock from her relative, and tried to locate other shareholders to hire a lawyer together. But nothing came of that.

The state attorney general referred her to the Consumer Affairs Division, which referred her to the FBI.

She contacted the FBI in hopes it would pursue the company's own allegation of stock certificates being counterfeited, with no effect.

She also dutifully wrote to a representative in Congress, explaining her plight and requesting help. She knows the wording of the reply letter by heart: "'If there's something I can do, let me know.' Well, what in the hell do you think I just wrote? It makes you want to crawl the ceiling."

After a certain point, the cycle began to repeat itself. "You start getting the double-up. They say, 'Try here' and I've already been there."

Along the way, the stakes doubled for Rattray. With the death of her father, she inherited his $10,000 worth of never-converted stock in the original company.

In an aside, she notes that the relative who sold her the stock inherited all the cash in her father's estate. Further, the relative "had 150,000 shares [of his own]. But somehow, his are sold."

As she struggled to track her investment, Rattray has tried to confront the relative, who fits the manipulative profile of a white-collar perpetrator as described by Huffer. "You haven't got a chance with him," maintains Rattray. "He's got an answer for everything. He will rationalize everything."

Discussion has been more difficult precisely because the man is a relative. According to Rattray, other relatives — who also purchased stock — are in denial that he could be involved in a scam.

The stock fraud has affected her health and her state of mind, says Rattray. "It's making me upset. It's turning me into a bitter woman, an angry soul. I don't want to be an angry soul."

She is reluctant to discuss it. "You don't want to talk to friends about this. It bores them to death. It's so complicated. I give them the surface of it, not the depth of it."

But meeting other apparent victims of quiet crime at Huffer's talk was a boost of sorts to Rattray. "It made me feel that I was not crazy. I had a right to feel the crappy feelings I was feeling. I wasn't alone. I wasn't going to let anyone bang me around any more."

Copyright 1991, Las Vegas Review-Journal

Joan Burkhart Whitely writes for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Her article, "The Walking Wounded," appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 23, 1991.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.