5 Terrible Things I Learned as a Corporate Whistleblower

On November 30, 2009, Linda Almonte was escorted out of her office by security. (We know -- no big deal, it happens to you every time you slip needles into the NERF darts. Stupid nanny state.) The difference here is that Almonte did nothing wrong: She was an executive with JP Morgan Chase, and her only mistake was doing her job and blowing the whistle on her lawbreaking boss. For the last five years, her life has been a morass of lawsuits and private detectives. Here's what we learned:

The following article is based on a Cracked interview with Linda Almonte.

You Can "Accidentally" Become a Whistleblower

Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images

I didn't start off in banking. I worked as a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt for GE, which has less to do with my martial arts prowess than the fact that deals I worked on had an error rate of less than 3.4 per million transactions (sorry, bank ninjas are a bit more boring than regular ninjas). In the early 2000s, a lot of major banks started recruiting GE's Six Sigma Certified employees because they liked what we'd done for GE. I was hired by Washington Mutual first, but eventually JP Morgan Chase brought me to manage a multibillion-dollar area of the credit card division.

Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Now would be a good time to queue up "The Imperial March."

The trouble started when I picked out a problem. This was not a little problem, either: It was a blatantly illegal $250 million deal. I thought I was protecting the bank. A lot of my success over the years had been due to spotting this kind of thing and stopping it. In the past, that's how I'd climbed the ladder, and I didn't see why it would be different this time.

I was very wrong.

Adam Gault/Photodisc/Getty Images Above: several hundred things that are apparently more important than the law.

When I pointed out that the deal was super illegal, their response was for me to just sign off on it and let it go through so they could post the earnings that year. If it caused a problem the following year, so be it. They had bonuses to earn now, and any potential prison terms were the future's problem -- and the future would probably have a way to deal with them (lasers or something, knowing how the future rolls).

So I did what I was supposed to do and pulled the sale from the market, because "lie about $250 million today" seemed like crime on a comic book-villain scale. They responded by firing my ass at top speed. A lot of what you see on TV right now about the collections industry as a whole being investigated by the FTC, OCC, SEC, CFPB, AGs, and DOJ started with the wrongful termination suit I filed in Texas against JP Morgan Chase.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com And the government's elaborate wrist-slapping apparatus whirred into motion.

Even if They're in the Wrong, They'll Still Hold You Accountable for Everything

Burke/Triolo Productions/Stockbyte/Getty

JP Morgan wanted to sell a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of debt to a debt buyer. I looked into it just a little and realized that most of these people had settled their debts, or their cases were dismissed by courts, or balances were outdated or inflated, and so on. This doesn't mean we'd have been screwing over the collections agencies, though. They didn't care if the debt info we gave them was out of date or incorrect, because the bank is in the clear either way: When they sell your personal information, they put "as is" at the top of the contract like it's the windshield of a crappy used car.

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images This isn't called "robbery" for reasons that are hard to explain.

They were even happy to buy the accounts of people who had already been sued based on older paid debts or incorrectly inflated balances. Since most of these people were never informed they'd been sued in the first place, they'd keep on paying for months or years before realizing what had happened. So there's another thing for you to think about at night instead of sleeping: You may have lost a secret lawsuit and nobody told you. That, and cancer -- you probably have cancer. Come on, you know that mole isn't normal.

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images "All right, nobody call the accused. He sounds like a busy guy."

The way it all shook out was that JP Morgan and friends agreed to pay $25 billion back in 2012 for all the bullshit in the mortgage settlement. State courts have sued them for billions more. The spotlight shown on their bad behavior also forced Chase to dismiss billions of dollars in phony debt as quickly as possible. This seems awesome from a "general sense of justice" point of view, but costing giant heartless corporations more money than the GDP of Paraguay means ...

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They Will Hunt You to the Ends of the Earth

Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

In the first few weeks after the shitstorm broke, I was on the front page of the New York Times. In October of 2010, my house was transformed into a 60 Minutes set. It was a whirlwind of media that still hasn't stopped. The family really enjoyed our time working with 60 Minutes. We enjoyed the ensuing constant life-ruining surveillance substantially less.

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images Whistleblowing is all the bad parts of fame, with none of the gold-plated jet skis.

At one point we wound up renting a house in Florida with an abandoned home right across the street (pretty normal in Florida, considering the number of foreclosures, alligator riots, and bath-salt zombies). The day after we moved in, some guy came to rent the empty house. He never moved any furniture, but suddenly a small forest of new antennas sprouted on the roof of the house. Isn't it good to know that, while your bank can't put you on the phone with a human being in under an hour, they can have PIs watching your house in less than a day?

Our house was broken into three times, once with me home. I guess they assumed that since all the cars were gone no one was there. I was in the garage doing laundry, then I walked into the kitchen and the guy from the empty house across the street was there. He looked around for a bit, then bent over and picked up my toy poodle and claimed he found her outside under his car. On the scale of lame improvised excuses for getting caught breaking into somebody's house, that's somewhere between yelling "Surprise! It's your birthday!" and "I'm you from the future."

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images "It turns out you were the banks all along!"

You get used to that kind of heavy surveillance, but you shouldn't. My elementary school-age daughter was leaving school one day and a teacher overheard her saying to one of her friends, "Oh God, I hope that van doesn't follow me home today." Being a responsible human adult, that teacher flipped out. I was in New York for a meeting and got a call -- but she was no longer concerned about the van. No, my daughter had very matter-of-factly explained that it was just Chase tailing her home and it was no big deal. The teacher found that terrifying: No 11-year-old's reaction to a freaking black van tailing her should be blase acceptance.

My mother had terminal cancer at the time all this started, and she wanted a big family gathering at Disney World. This was right before she entered hospice, so it was sort of our last hurrah together, and we couldn't go from ride to ride without PIs taking pictures of us. That's some seriously excessive, privacy-violating surveillance -- even for a Disney park.

Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images At least Disney's surveillance stops at the park.

It really bothered my mom, so finally I confronted them: "You are going to leave. You will NOT follow me around anymore while I am on vacation with my mother and family. You go back to Baker Botts and Chase and tell them I'm gonna make it REAL freaking easy for them to stalk me. From now on, everywhere I go, whatever I do, I'll post it on Facebook with my GPS location and a photo publicly online." I even snapped them a picture of my visitor badge when I stopped by the SEC to hand over all the information for our case. I kept my promise and still do to this day. Sure, you're probably going to be automatically enrolled in that program with the next Facebook update, whether you like it or not, but I was doing it before it was cool.

You'll Never Work Again

Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

I'm still unemployed now, five years later. I was even barred from receiving unemployment in Texas. I lost my house, my apartment -- right now I live off my dad's Social Security and VA disability. No place in the world is going to hire someone who got her former boss sued by the government and has cost them billions and climbing. That's right up there with "steals lunches from the employee fridge" on the list of deadly office sins. And even if they were willing to hire me, I'm continually testifying in front of that alphabet soup of agencies and attorneys general I mentioned earlier.

The Washington Post / Getty Images Testifying is apparently so stressful that JP Morgan's CEO needs $20 million a year to cope with it.

"Sorry, I may have to miss work half the month, and I can't really tell you why right now" doesn't make a great impression on prospective employers: Their natural first assumptions are "spy" or "serious opium addict." In the space of a few years, I went from living in the nicest part of San Antonio and working as an executive with a good salary to living with my dad on food stamps. All because I told the truth and refused to commit hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud in one day. Whistleblowing means being "forever unemployable," while the people you blew the whistle on get promotions and massive bonuses. Google my name, and you're immediately aware of my legal history. Even the absolute laziest background check is going to find that out. Pretty much the best I can hope for is that Google will ask them if they meant "Del Monte" and maybe I'll be mistaken for a fruit cup magnate.

It ... hasn't happened yet.

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The Legal Battles Will Take Decades

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

I was the first person I know of to file as a whistleblower under the SEC's new Whistleblower Program under Dodd-Frank. So if the government ever does the right thing and prosecutes these people, I'll get 10 to 30 percent of the SEC fines. That sounds awesome, but we've been at this for five years now, and my lawyer says we have a minimum of five to seven years longer just testifying and subpoenaing between AG actions and upcoming class actions. A child was born at the start of this case, and it will live long enough to grow ungrateful and angsty before we ever see a dollar.

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images "The court will now adjourn until we can think up a new reason to adjourn."

My story isn't necessarily common. Sometimes it works out: The best possible outcome for someone like me is that of Bradley Birkenfeld. He blew the whistle on a massive income tax scam in 2005 and finally received his award in 2012. That was three years after his bank paid their fine. On the plus side, he made $104 million for his trouble. On the downside, it took seven years, and he spent two and half of those in prison for it. Rarely is "go directly to jail" the best case scenario.

The funniest thing is that I never went in search of an attorney to sue Chase, or anyone else. After it all went down, I would have moved on and started working at another bank, doing what I do best: not committing a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of fraud every day. They left me no choice but to file suit by taking pretty much everything else away. You don't think of banks and other corporations as being susceptible to petty human motivations like revenge.

But that's only because you don't know them well enough.

Linda has a GoFundMe page where you can donate to help her keep blowing the heck out of that whistle. Robert Evans runs Cracked's personal experience team and if you'd like to tell him a story send an email here.

Related Reading: Cracked's given you the inside scoop on a lot of crazy things lately, including the Ukrainian revolution and freaking Disneyworld. We also helped a transgendered woman explain how Hollywood ignores the realities of her life, and talked to a Dominatrix about the truths behind different sexual fetishes. Not full of knowledge yet? Read about one woman's escape from the Church of Scientology.

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  1. Red_McWilliams

    April 7th, 2014      8:48 am

    Her GoFundMe page has garnered a whopping $665. I think we can improve on that a bit.

  2. bnevs18

    April 7th, 2014      5:43 am

    It would seem to me that hiring Ms. Almonte would be a PR coup.
    "Look, we dont do illegal stuff, and to prove it, we hired a whistleblower!"
    Thats assuming there's ONE company in the financial world that ISNT doing something illegal.

  3. moonstache*.*

    April 7th, 2014      5:11 am

    In the last POV article someone in the comments complained that Cracked should just stick to "dick jokes" and that their POV articles were shabby and should be stopped.

    I hope this article will meet your fancy, Mr GoodforNothing TrollsoObvious.

    What Linda did takes A LOT of guts. Linda, I applaud you and I applaud Cracked and Robert Evans for telling her story.

    Thank you so much

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YouTube Kids launches in Canada and elsewhere

Last year YouTube launched YouTube Kids, a child-friendly version of their popular video viewing/sharing app. It had some issues along the way, including content filtering, advertising to children, and some technical hicups. However, it seems most of these things have been ironed out, and the app is now available for parents in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. It's a free download on both the Google Play Store, and the Apple App Store.

It features specific channels and shows, and after an hour with the app, it seems that Google is making good on most of their promises for this. Offensive content was filtered out in all the tests I did, and searches for things like "50 Shades of Grey trailer" returned a simple, "Oops. Maybe you want to search for something else." Suggested videos were very child-friendly, and the interface is fairly solid. Very small children will still need some help, but most toddlers will find their way to their favourite shows and songs without issue. Google stated that in the US launch, the app was downloaded over 10 million times, and "Wheels on the bus" has been watched more than "Gangnam Style," if such a thing is even possible.

The app also includes a password-protected family timer, so you can limit how long kids can watch too. All in all, it's a solid and welcome addition to the lineup of Google's services. However, despite the suggested age range of 1-13, I doubt any kid over 10 would be caught dead using the app.


Horrific Fighting App - Thankfully Fake

On November 9th, news broke about a new app called Rumblr, which was described as the Tinder for fighting. The basic premise was that you could browse the profiles of other people near your location, insult them and incite them to a good, old fashioned, street brawl. The time and location of the fight would be broadcast via th app, so the general population of complete idiots could come and watch the action.

Something about the app seemed too bizarre to be true, so I held off posting a blog on it. The app had a website, an apparent round of investors, and it was covered by hundreds of online and print media publications. There was open debate on the legality of this app. After all, fighting is a form of assault, and carries a criminal penalty. Watching or inciting violence carries it's own charges. The app even allowed for women to fight, and whether it allowed a man to fight a woman for others' amusement, remained a bit unclear.

The app allowed people to sign up for the beta, and from early accounts, thousands did. It seemed there was a real market for something like this.

Thankfully, it turns out the entire idea was a marketing stunt by a new company made up of self-proclaimed college dropouts. The app was a stunt to prove they could create a brand and get worldwide attention with it. In that sense, I suppose they succeeded. However, I hardly consider that an endorsement of the company, as any fool with an idea that seems so outrageous, repulsive or illegal, is certain to get press coverage. Let's see you market a new brand of kitty litter, and we'll talk.

A collective sigh of relief then? Perhaps, but the many who signed up for the beta is a testament to the fact that there's a market for something as terrible as an app that helps you commit assault, or lets you watch a crime in progress for your amusement. That should have been the real story here.


Instagram faker calls it quits

A fascinating story out this morning of a young woman on Instagram who calls it quits. With over 800,000 followers, and a financially-lucrative account, the 18-year-old model named Essena O'Neill has shut down much of her account. More than 2,000 photos have been removed, and those that remain have new details on their true origins.
In her published statement, she says, "Without realising, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance."
Her account is now named, "Social Media is not Real Life."
It's a fascinating look into the false vanity that pervades a great deal of social media... if we let it.


YouTube Red

A new version of YouTube launches on October 28th, 2015, in the US. Called YouTube Red, it is an ad-free version of the popular video sharing site, allowing also offline viewing of videos for subscribers. For $9.95 a month, users get access to videos without ads, and specifically-created content for subscribers only. It's a bit like NetFlix, but likely with less original content. As a bonus, you also get paid access to Google Play Music, a solid online music streaming service.

Existing users can continue to use the video service on YouTube as before, and payouts for content creators stay the same in that tier. The amount one gets from subscribing viewers who view your content is, however, up for a great amount of debate. Some are embracing it, and others are crying foul and calling it the end of the platform. Time will tell, and for now on those in the USA will be able to try it out.


Peeple - Horror app or Hoax?

There has been a fair bit of Internet buzz over a new app, "launching soon," called Peeple. According to its creators, it's like the restaurant-rating app, Yelp. But, this one is for people. Apparently it allows you to confirm you know a person by entering their phone number, and then allowing you to rate them as a person, based on attitude, personality, looks, and other factors. Yes, it sounds like a terrible idea.

Response to Peeple has been instant and largely condemning. Most who hear about it find it a terrible idea, and a way to give us one more way to demean people and make ourselves look better. The founders claim that one can contest poor reviews, and that it's meant for positive encouragement instead of negative.

But recent research may indicate that this is all either an elaborate hoax, or what we might call vaporware (something that never comes out). The Facebook page has been shut down, the Instagram account has gone private, and the YouTube video is offline. As Snopes points out, there's a fair bit here that doesn't quite add up.

So it's worth noting, that not all the things we get up in arms about will actually see the light of day. But, one thing remains true, it's a terrible idea in a sea of other terrible ideas. We have more than enough ways to rate people online, and certainly don't need a dedicated app for that.


Tinder's Paid Offerings

Tinder, the find-a-match (ie: find a quick liaison) app, now has a premium version. It’s $9.95 a month for everyone, but if you’re over 30 (and likely more desperate) it’s $19.95 a month. The paid version gives a few specific benefits:

Benefit one

In the normal app, you receive potential “matches" based on geographical location. So, you can see if a potential partner is only a few miles away. You swipe right to consider them a possible match, and swipe left to discard them from your life forever.

There’s a real sense of power in that. The not-good-enough-for-the-likes-of-me buzz that gives you. The very same part of the brain that Facebook’s founder played with in his early “hot or not?" ratings of campus girls.

However… in one’s haste to discard people, a potential match may find themselves in the trash heap. Normally, there’s no way to go back. That person is lost to you forever. Now, for a low monthly fee, you can undo your rash decision, and get them back on your screen… only to reject again later (if you wish).

Benefit two

The second thing the paid option provides is simulated location matches.

No longer do you have to see people only in your area, or wait until you arrive at a new city on a business trip, to see who’s available. Now you can tell the app to pretend you’re already there, and serve up a buffet of potentials before your departure. Have them meet you at the airport. What could be better?

It’s not an app and service I’d be concerned about as much for teens, as I would be for travelling men and women. This is doubly so, if the paid version is opted for. If you’re putting out a potential $240 a year, you know you’re going to want something back for that…


Facebook's Policies 2015

Facebook just updated their community standards, and much of their new policy is a reaction to flak they have faced in the past. It also shows how inadequate technology is at monitoring and policing the 1.3 billion users that use Facebook. There’s no substitute for the human perspective and judgement on whether something should, or should not, be allowed online.

In the past, Facebook has made a few policies that are now specifically rolled back (or have been in the past). For example:

No nudity now becomes no nudity that specifically focusses on the genitals or buttocks in a specifically-sexual way. Artistic nudity and nudity in art are ok. Technically that means that a porn shot with a few artistic Photoshop filters over top would be fine.

No shots of breasts now becomes no sexualized shots of breasts. Breastfeeding images, even with nipple showing, are ok. And, after coming under considerable flack from breast cancer survivors, shots of post-mastectomy chests are fine.

The threats of harm or self-harm are also ambiguous and hard to define, but I certainly applaud their efforts to use the platform as a place to be free from threat and bullying. However, it’s vastly inadequate, as much of that is done in private message, and not written on a user’s timeline. They can’t police that, at least not without admitting they read all your private messages (which they may or may not be doing).

Their recent addition of 50+ possible gender identities is another area of both concern and near-hilarity. But, their “real name" policy drew the ire of many in the trans community, who wanted to represent their “authentic self" and not their current legal name. I’m not sure why we need 50 options, when the addition of “trans" would likely have been sufficient. But when Facebook backpedals, they do so in style.

Their community guidelines are well worth the read, and are certainly laid out in an easy-to-digest format. Just be aware that no guidelines are ever going to really make it “safe" for any user. But at least the woman who had her photos banned because Facebook thought her bare elbows were breasts can feel better now.


Miss Travel

Imagine a truly terrible idea: meeting a complete stranger as an attractive woman, knowing nothing about him, and knowing he may want something you are not willing to give. Now, imagine meeting him in a location you know nothing about, have no resources in, and have no viable exit strategy for. Sounds like a perfect setup for a horror movie, but it’s just the newest online dating app called “Miss Travel."

As the website indicates, “generous" males connect with “attractive" females (though in theory it could be the reverse) and travel together. The generous male pays all the female’s travel expenses and hotel fees. The female accompanies the male, provides engaging conversation, and ….

Tinder now allows you to meet up and plan your fornication in advance of arriving at your destination. But if that doesn’t make a potential squeeze toy beholden enough to you, then you can essentially buy their services by paying for their travel and taking them along on the plane with you. There are literally no limits to the ways this can all go wrong, mostly for the attractive female.

The thing that’s really interesting is how terrible the video promoting this site truly is. It feels like the setup to the horror movie mentioned earlier, but it’s meant to sell you on the service. Ironically, it spoofs the movie Taken. That’s the one where the innocent and foolish girl meets someone she doesn’t really know, and ends up sold to an international sexual slavery ring.

Only, in the real version, there’s no Liam Neeson to save your life.

Facebook and Inmates

Sometimes we waste so much time on Facebook that it’s practically criminal, but for South Carolina’s prison inmates, it actually is. A provision in their criminal code makes unauthorized use of Facebook from prison, or by family on an inmate’s behalf, a serious level 1 offense. Other level 1 offenses are hostage taking, murder, sexual assault, and rioting.

Tyheem Henry, an inmate serving time for nearly beating a man to death, was given a sentence of fifteen years. However, when he posted on Facebook that he missed his family, he was given an additional 37 year sentence. Worse still, all 37 are in solitary confinement – a punishment so mentally oppressive, the UN considers it torture.

Each day a prisoner accesses Facebook without permission, using the jail’s computers, counts as an offense. Henry used the computer over a period of 37 days, posting regular updates like many of us do. When they caught him on the 38th day, they added up his posts and gave him 37 years. An inmate that would start a riot, sexually assault another inmate, and beat two other men to death, would get far less punishment than a person who makes 1 post to Facebook over 5 days.

Henry also gets a punishment of 74 years without visiting rights, no more phone or canteen privileges. That’s not that big of a deal, perhaps, as the nearly-four-decades without human contact will render him unable to hold a conversation anyway.

Henry isn’t alone either, Over the past three years, more than 400 additional sentences have been handed out in South Carolina prisons. More than 40 prisoners received two years in solitary for a single post. In one case, a family member who posted on an inmate’s behalf caused them to receive multiple level 1 offenses and a healthy additional sentence.

If you’re planning on committing serious crimes in South Carolina, perhaps break that Facebook habit first.