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Greed is no respecter of persons; Y grad., convicted felon shares her cautionary tale

Published: Saturday, March 5 2011 11:29 p.m. MST

ATLANTA — It's been nearly seven years, but retired FBI special agent Oliver Halle can still remember sitting in a small Atlanta coffee shop listening to Diann Cattani spill her soul.

He asked simple questions, and she talked for nearly three hours. Through all of it, he was listening for phrases like "sweat equity," "they shortchanged me," or "they never paid me what I was worth."

Instead there were phrases like, "they treated me like family and I stabbed them in the back," "I stole this money," and "I'm the one to blame."

"I'm listening," Halle told the Deseret News. "I'm not saying anything, but I'm thinking, 'wow, this is incredible.' Most criminals don't do that."

Then they got to Cattani's background.

Born in Preston, Idaho. Fourth of seven children. Attended BYU on a volleyball scholarship. And yes, she's a Mormon.

At that detail, Halle remembers laughing, and Cattani asked him what was so funny.

"I looked her right in the eye and said, "Mormons don't do what you did,'" Halle said.

"You're exactly right, they don't," was Cattani's response. "I'm a disgrace to my family and my church.'"

Cattani, 45, can pinpoint the moment her moral, ethical upbringing got temporarily pushed aside by the pressures of a fast-paced lifestyle, an entitlement mentality and the shimmering vice of greed.

Soon, the "gray area" between right and wrong expanded, and Cattani, an accountant for a specialized human resources consulting firm in Atlanta, found herself justifying false invoices, charging the office for personal expenses and even reimbursing herself multiple times for a single purchase.

"I knew I could get away with anything and I became a runaway train," she said.

Over the next 3 1/2 years, Cattani siphoned away nearly $500,000 from employers she regarded as family. After confessing, she lost her job, her marriage, 18 months of freedom and any chance at a professional future.

Now, with a felony label permanently affixed, Cattani tours the country with Halle, warning everyone from college students to CEOs about the slippery slope of rationalization and that greed is no respecter of people — even upstanding, moral Christians.

"People need to know how insidious the temptation is, how something seemingly simple and innocuous at the time can mushroom and snowball," she said. "Be aware. Don't (think) that it could never happen to you."

It's a message needed now more than ever, she said, especially with today's crushing economic pressures to succeed and even just survive.

In fact, in the 2010 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, in 43 percent of the cases they studied, the perpetrator had displayed the red flag of "living beyond means" before detection, and another 36 percent displayed "financial difficulties."

Since the recession, estimated to have begun in late 2007, one FBI statistic shows that nationwide mortgage fraud cases spiked from 1,644 cases in 2008 to nearly 2,800 cases in 2009.

"A bad economy is always going to drive up crime in general and white-collar crime in particular," said Richard Hamp, an assistant Utah Attorney General who focuses on fraud. "It will make people teetering on the edge fall over, and in their minds become more justified in taking advantage of another person."

A perfect beginning

Besides the daily sibling competition for the remote control, the favorite chair or the final slice of pie, Cattani describes her growing up years as easy, with school and sports achievements coming naturally.

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