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Auburn Plainsman: The War Stories of Whistleblowers: Government Accountability Project Visits AU for its Second Time

February 02, 2013
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By COREY ARDWOOD

The Government Accountability Project’s American Whistle Blower Tour was on campus Thursday, January 31, and it brought with it two veteran whistleblowers who shared their experiences with Auburn students.

Both speakers had very different stories, but both shared in common something seemingly rare to the world of whistleblowers.

Frank Casey and Dr. Jon Oberg, spoke to a crowded auditorium about their experiences in exposing fraudulent practices in the financial sector and business community, and proved that not every tale of a whistleblower has to be tragic. 

The event was moderated in a discussion format between the speakers by Dana Gold, a GAP Senior Fellow and tour director.

“In some ways it’s so refreshing but disorienting to me to hear their stories, because usually the story is ‘be careful blowing the whistle.’ You should absolutely do it. It’s really important to a functioning democracy, and to institutional accountability, but there are huge risks involved,” Gold said.

“Whereas, here look at how important what they did was to government and corporate accountability; and it wasn’t even that risky, and they came out on top. And that’s a great story, it’s often not the story we hear organizationally,” said Gold, as she laughed.

Casey, along with his partner Harry Markopolos, was a crucial figure in exposing the Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff, which lost investors upwards of $50 billion and secured Madoff 150 years in prison; the maximum sentence for his crime.

Oberg, a researcher for the Department of Education, discovered that certain student loan lenders were defrauding the government, or taxpayers, by overpricing the government for its subsidies on the loans.

After years of resistance from his superiors Oberg successfully had the case brought to trial, and won. The victory resulted in saving the Federal Government tremendous sums of money where the over price on the subsidies had been paid.

The discussion was held in Lowder Business Building. A large percentage of the crowd consisted of accountancy students, and various other business majors.

“I was very pleased, it was a different event than last year; both in tone and content. I think the stories were much more hopeful and positive in some ways, in all ways. Whereas last year they were stories of much more, both graphic retribution as well as retaliation,” said Gold.

The tour’s stop at campus was sponsored by the College of Business’ School of Accountancy, and was introduced by Dr. Sara Stanwick, associate professor in the School of Accountancy.

Stanwick had been behind both of the tour’s visits, with Thursday night being the second time the tour has stopped at Auburn throughout its two-year running history.

“Everything was very well organized and the students and the faculty were great. My only regret is, I wish I had more time to engage both the students and the faculty,” Oberg said, and Casey emphatically agreed.

Speaking with them after the event they said that they were not only pleased with the results of the discussion, but impressed by the university as a whole. While Casey noted the importance of the tour and the affect it has on everyone involved.

“We get something out of it because we feel good about educating. And the professors get something out of it because they have a real world experience to show. And I believe the students get something, because it is a credibility that you might not just get from a book. I’m very impressed with the university, the faculty and the students,” Casey said.

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