What Can We Learn From the Alex Murdaugh Trial - How Smart People Can Make Dumb Choices



Capturing nationwide attention, the trial of South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, a once-revered member of a prominent legal family, has highlighted the significance of investigating the causes of behavior, especially when it comes to white-collar crime.

Decades ago, no one would have thought that his high flying career would end with testimony related to his financial crimes that have come to light in his double murder trial. But, Murdaugh's case provides interesting insights into the underlying psychological processes of white-collar crime; he is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from his law firm and insurance clients - which on the stand he openly admitted to.

But how does this relate to the average honest person? After all, someone said to me the other day, "I'm not a monster like Alex Murdaugh." The reality is - faced with severe enough pressure, any human can make choices that they later may regret - choices that can create life altering consequences.

The "fraud triangle," includes three elements that can motivate smart well-intentioned people to make dumb choices. They are need, opportunity, and rationalization. The combination of these three show us one of the key concepts that has emerged from the investigation into Murdaugh's alleged theft.

The term "need" is used to describe the financial or emotional hardships that motivate an individual to commit illegal acts. Needs come in a variety of forms. It is believed that Murdaugh's thefts first began around the time he became heavily involved in opioid use, which he attributes to his struggles with addiction and depression. This demonstrates the need to address underlying mental health issues and financial stressors in order to reduce the incidence of white-collar crime.

Opportunity, which is defined as "the conditions that allow fraud to occur," is the second part of the fraud triangle. Murdaugh was able to make unauthorized transfers of funds because he had access to the company's bank accounts. This emphasizes the need for rigorous internal controls and monitoring to forestall theft and fraud. The books of a company should be examined on a regular basis, and employees should not be given unrestricted access to company resources.

In the third and final part of the fraud triangle, "rationalization" refers to the excuses one makes to oneself for engaging in fraudulent activity. According to reports, Murdaugh justified his theft by claiming that he had earned the money through his family's reputation and his own efforts.

In order to prevent employees from justifying illegal or unethical behavior, this highlights the significance of ethical training and establishing a culture of integrity within organizations.

As a whole, the trial of Alex Murdaugh is a cautionary tale about the significance of investigating the causes of white-collar crime. Unfortunately for Murdaugh, it is too late for him to avoid the repercussions of his alleged crimes, but others can benefit from the lessons his case provides.

Well intentioned people can make poor choices when the pressures of life override one's ability to think rationally about the choice we make. For organizations, it's important to provide effective ethics training and have systems in place to help prevent and deter poor choices that can have unexpected and disastrous consequences.

About the author:

Chuck Gallagher is an ethics keynote speaker, consultant, and author. With over four decades of experience, he has been a trusted advisor to many organizations and has helped thousands of individuals improve their ethical decision-making. His engaging presentations and insightful books provide practical strategies for building a culture of ethics and integrity.

Source: Chuck Gallagher

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