Walter Kevin Scott was the PERFect candidate because others helped perpetuate his deception
Personnel managers at some corporations must dream about the ideal applicant, that one time when the man or woman who has it all comes through the door. He or she would be a job description come to life, and if - let"s be honest - he or she is also a minority, an attractive person of color, well, the American dream fits comfortably inside the manager"s dream.
Walter Kevin Scott easily passed the criminal background check for his position at the Public Employees Retirement Fund (PERF).
Take Walter Kevin Scott - and a lot of executives in three-piece suits did. Bachelor of arts, Wittenberg University, 1989, on scholarship for leadership, academic and athletic ability. Phi Alpha Theta, vice president of the student Senate. Law degree, Ohio State University, 1993, in the top 28 percent of the class. Smart, no doubt about it. But good-looking, too. At 6-foot-7, a lean, athletic man with a hint of Michael Jordan. A three-year letterman in varsity basketball at Wittenberg. Accustomed to competition and adversity. A team player. Indeed, he would write, "I have had great success when drawing on the respective strengths of others." There"s more. A Habitat For Humanity volunteer. Likes to work with young kids who didn"t get the same breaks he did coming out of an upper middle-class Ohio family. A volunteer helping seniors and poor people figure out how to do their income taxes. Obviously conscientious, civic-minded, good-hearted. On top of everything else, the guy knows numbers. He can understand and analyze complicated figures and ask tough questions. He would claim to always look to improve things by asking: ""Why do we do it that way?" and, "Is there a better, more efficient way?" Music to any CEO"s ears. Kevin Scott appeared to have it all. What would seem odd later was that most of that background was true. W. Kevin Scott simply left a few things out. A touch of larceny In the play Six Degrees of Separation, a handsome young con man claiming to be Sidney Poitier"s son easily fools people who want to believe what he tells them. By the time the Will Smith movie version came out, in 1993, Kevin Scott himself had two faces, and one had hidden secrets. That fraternity, for instance. Investigators would learn Scott had been kicked out for suspicion of stealing money. Then there was the first internship. In 1990, Scott was hired by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission to serve as intern to three Republican legislators. He was fired for falsifying time sheets - he collected state pay while working as a waiter. Then there was the second internship. Still in law school, Scott was hired as an intern at the national law firm of Jones Day Reavis and Pogue. He was quietly fired for using a partner"s credit card without authorization. "Quietly" is the operative word, because Scott was able to get another law firm internship the following summer. His apparent propensity for thievery might have gone unnoticed, except when Scott applied to take the Ohio bar exam, the examiners learned he had been fired by both law firms, the second for alleged sexual harassment. Bar officials decided, as one source put it: "We need to write a letter so he can never take the bar exam anywhere." Somehow, Scott got another internship - at Procter & Gamble. It lasted five months. Therein lies a tale to be told later. Instead of becoming a lawyer, Scott became a car salesman. In this role, he made his biggest mistake to date. He used the identities of two people to get more than $31,000 in loans and lines of credit. Exposed in 1996, Scott was hauled into U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. He pleaded guilty to two counts of bank and mail fraud. He spent two months in prison and was released on probation. A convicted felon. An ex-con. A chronic thief and apparent sociopath. Yet what would seem to be a bleak future was anything but. Within a year, Scott would be living in Bloomington, Ind., working for Cook, Inc., and earning accolades like this: "It is our great pleasure to know that Kevin now plans on a long-term commitment to Cook! Kevin has done a super job in the short time with us so far Ö Kevin is a pleasure to work with and has become a valuable member of the Cook team in a very short time. Thanks for all the hard work." "A great asset to this company" If there are curious gaps in the Kevin Scott chronicle, one of the strangest is how he landed a job, on Dec. 8, 1997, with the prosperous Monroe County company which manufactures medical instruments for sale around the world. Regardless of what any former employer or associate would or wouldn"t say about the man, he was still on federal probation. He had left muddy tracks behind him. And yet it seems that people, if asked, didn"t tell the truth about him, or all of the truth. For now, all that can be said with certainty is that Scott had married. His wife Valerie is an accountant, and she enrolled at Indiana University for further studies. They came to Bloomington, moved into a nice home, and Cook, Inc. hired the 30-year-old ex-Ohioan on a "two-year commitment" to work in its corporate benefits department. Mrs. Scott for a time worked at Coopers & Lybrand. The couple had a son. And Kevin was a hit at Cook. In October 1998, his department manager wrote enthusiastically, "He obviously brought with him some strong business and legal skills. However, it has been his enthusiastic, diligent effort in learning how Cook does business, and in using his skills to support our business efforts, that has been most noteworthy." His first year was described as "exceptional." He got a raise every year. In 1999, he was promoted to manager of corporate administration. By early 2001, he was rated "excellent" in seven out of eight categories. One report all but glowed: "He has become an integral figure within most of the significant aspects of managing this diverse group of companies. [Owner] Bill Cook, [executives] Phyllis McCullough and John Kamstra, as well, rely upon his business, legal, organizational and personal insight and skills in overseeing the Cook organization." Obviously, Cook, Inc. would regret losing such a valuable employee. Or was Cook, Inc. all too happy to foist an embarrassing problem on someone else? "But I can"t think of anything" The Public Employees Retirement Fund is a quasi-state agency which administers retirement money and pension payments for most state employees. Under an executive director and board of directors, it has a full-time time staff overseeing an $11 billion portfolio for some 200,000 people. In the spring of last year, PERF placed an ad for candidates for the job of chief benefits officer. Some three dozen persons expressed interest. In July, W. Kevin Scott sent an e-mail and resume to Ken Stoughton, PERF human resources director, as a prelude to a formal interview. Various PERF officials took part in the initial winnowing process. Scott was able to tout his position handling a $19 million budget and administering benefits for 4,000 Cook employees worldwide, along with enthusiastic reports of his performance at Cook. Moreover, he offered some heavyweight references from Cook - John Kamstra, chief financial officer; Dr. John DeFord, president and CEO; Dan Peterson, executive vice president; and Phyllis McCullough, chairperson of the board. He was one of four finalists. PERF board members Jonathan Birge and Nancy Turner and Executive Director E. William Butler interviewed all four. Butler and Turner agreed on Scott. By now it was October, and if Scott could clear the last hurdles - his references and a routine criminal background check by Indiana State Police - he would get the state job. Then something rather astonishing happened. Scott"s references came through. It was astonishing because Cook had fired Scott long before he applied for the state job. In fact, Cook had terminated Scott in March 2001, on grounds that Scott had used company funds to have business cards printed showing him as Cook"s corporate counsel. Scott wasn"t admitted before any bar. Just as bizarre, Cook executives now knew Scott was a convicted felon. At PERF, Project Director Jim Osborn was assigned to explore the references. Osborn put together three pages of questions. He couldn"t reach Kamstra. He talked to DeFord, McCullough and Peterson on Oct. 18-19. According to Osborn"s notes, DeFord gave strongly positive answers, including "extremely capable" and "tremendous." Asked if there was anything else PERF should know, DeFord replied, "Probably, but I can"t think of anything." McCullough was similarly enthusiastic. Scott "would do very well" at PERF, she opined. When asked what she would do if Scott left Cook and wanted to come back, she replied, "There is a policy against rehiring." Likewise, Peterson peppered his responses with "excellent" and "great." Oh, Scott needed improvement in the area of "maturity." But Peterson also cited the policy against rehiring. And he said there was nothing else PERF should know. Scott easily passed the criminal background check. It was easy because he provided the Social Security number of another Kevin Scott with no criminal history. He would have passed with his own number anyway. Federal law prohibits access to the national crime data base for employment record checks. In November, Scott officially joined the PERF team, giving him access to private information on thousands of Hoosiers. The blame game From November until August 2002, Scott worked at PERF without complaint or suspicion. In the summer, The Indianapolis Star ran an article about state employees who got jobs during a hiring freeze. Scott and his $95,000 annual salary were mentioned. Shortly, an anonymous woman left a telltale message on a recorder at the newspaper. Scott"s felony conviction was exposed. Scott resigned and was arrested later on a federal charge of misuse of a Social Security number. Gov. Frank O"Bannon retained Indianapolis attorney Forrest Bowman Jr. to investigate. Bowman traced the hiring procedures, including Cook officials" recommendations. In September, an attorney for the Bloomington company revealed Cook had fired Scott months before Scott approached PERF. Just as startling, the attorney told Bowman that Cook had learned of Scott"s felony conviction and allowed him to continue working, at least until the misleading business cards were discovered. The Cook attorney also said Scott had told the three executives PERF knew about his past. "None of the three attempted to confirm this representation in their interviews with Osborn, nor did they disclose his conviction to Osborn," Bowman would report. Bowman also found out that once Osborn reported the three positive responses from Cook, Butler decided it was unnecessary to contact the fourth executive, or to check a statement Scott made that he worked as an attorney for Procter & Gamble in 1993-"97. In fact, Scott had had a brief internship with Procter & Gamble. By this point, the media focus had changed. Because O"Bannon"s staff had ordered the criminal background check, he was blamed for not being more thorough. It was said the governor had created a "mess" and implied that Bowman had been retained to whitewash a political embarrassment. When Bowman"s report came out in September, citing a "unique and highly improbable combination of circumstances" and revealing Cook"s deceptions, The Star ignored most of its conclusions. When Butler resigned, under fire, as executive director, the newspaper saw him as a scapegoat. When O"Bannon decided not to reappoint PERF board members Steve Miller, treasurer of Indiana University, and Teresa Ghilarducci, an associate professor of economics at Notre Dame, who weren"t involved in Scott"s hiring, The Star suggested Miller and Ghilarducci had been purged to prevent criticism of O"Bannon. Getting it right Ghilarducci, who writes a column for NUVO Newsweekly, called The Star"s reporting "shoddy." The PERF board changes resulted because of a new statute, not a "purge," she said, nor was she critical of the governor. "I would have told any reporter from any newspaper those facts, however, no journalist ever talked to me." Ghilarducci believes the Scott episode "could have happened at any state agency. If former employers won"t say the obvious when prospective employers call and we don"t spend $15,000 on private investigators for each candidate, then con men and women can beat a system. We were conned and unlucky." Bowman also was incensed, saying the news coverage was slanted and misleading. "For example, although The Star editorially criticized the governor"s staff for accessing a criminal record data base that would only reveal Indiana convictions, it failed to report the FBI legal memorandum attached to my report that clearly explained that the national criminal record data base can"t be lawfully accessed for an employment check." While the newspaper questioned his objectivity, Bowman said it has "been unable to find a factual error or relevant factual omission." No Star reporter or editor ever bothered to call him to talk about the report, he added. "In 1997, Gov. O"Bannon appointed me to investigate and report on a problem in the Department of Health. A Star editorial complimented him on the appointment and described me as a respected independent counsel. Today they put quotes around the word "independent."" Scott"s activities at PERF are under investigation. He has been undergoing psychiatric analysis at a federal hospital. State police recently searched his Bloomington home, perhaps because Cook, Inc., now says "we were a victim, too."