I'm a CFE

Charles Washington, CFE

Director - global security, Americas at Pfizer

Charles Washington, CFE, has learned over his many years in the anti-fraud profession that it takes tenacity, patience and good communication to discover and remediate fraud. As a director – global security, Americas, Washington is responsible for drug diversion and drug discount pricing fraud investigations at Pfizer. He explains, "It takes courage and tenacity to follow all leads pointing to fraud, especially when it's not always the popular thing to do. Patience in following your convictions is also essential. And finally, listening well is very critical to being a successful fraud examiner." As a self-described "motor head," Washington spends his free time on his Harley Davidson Road Glide motorcycle and hopes to one day take his Harley cross-country along Route 66. "The ride is exhilarating, and is often great therapy to clear my head so that I can think through the complications of some fraud cases."

I was born in Manhattan, New York, but I lived the greater part of my childhood in Sumter, South Carolina. I returned to New York City as a young adult, and I believe it was those latter experiences in New York City that shaped the person I've become.

I was a motor head as a child. Anything with wheels and an engine — I loved it! As a kid, I spent hours learning the make, model and year of every car on the road. Muscle cars were my favorite, and my favorite cars were the Ford Mustang Cobra and the Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396.

My greatest achievement is quite personal to me. Growing up, I stuttered tremendously. Most thought this speech impediment would certainly interfere with my future successes, but I was driven to prove everyone wrong. I overcame my speech impediment through hard work and tenacity of purpose, and today I speak publicly to groups on pharmaceutical fraud and anti-counterfeiting topics. I've had a successful career as a criminal investigator, became one of the youngest graduates of the FBI National Academy and the Metropolitan Police Academy at Scotland Yard, and now I'm a director in a Fortune 100 Company. I've always been driven to achieve what I believed.

I didn't take the conventional route to college. I joined the U.S. Army after graduating from high school and found the military to be a rewarding career. Education was also very important to me, so I pursued my college degree part time. Frequent military transfers made it difficult to matriculate at any one college, but I was able to earn a bachelor of science degree from Regents College in Albany, New York. I immediately pursued and earned a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice from Troy University in Alabama.

I came into law enforcement out of a deep desire to help and protect others from risks they can't otherwise foresee. When I was a special agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, I saw too often where greed led unsuspecting personalities to jeopardize the strength and safety of our soldiers — who risk their lives for this county — for their own personal gain. Bribery, graft and false claims related to government contracting put our soldiers at significant risk on the battlefield, and as a soldier, I made fighting fraud my passion.

After I left law enforcement and prior to joining Pfizer, I was director of investigations at a fraud investigation firm in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. I completed a fraud case at a textile factory where the suspect committed suicide during the investigation [more on the story below]. This case, and the work that went into it, made me realize the potential dangers, and rattled my commitment to combating fraud in this manner. About two weeks later, a long-standing friend called and asked if I knew an experienced fraud investigator interested in an investigator/auditor position at Pfizer. I immediately said, "I'm interested," and I was hired for the job a few months later.

It takes courage and tenacity to follow all leads pointing to fraud, especially when it's not always the most popular thing to do."

Frauds involving health care products are one of the fastest growing challenges for the pharmaceutical industry. Product integrity investigations, which include fraud, theft, product tampering and anti-counterfeiting, seek to ensure that medicines make their way to patients in a safe and cost-effective manner. Currently, I assess pharmaceutical pricing frauds and product integrity investigations in Pfizer's commercial operation groups in the U.S., and the company's consumer product division in the U.S. and Canada. I've also developed a dispute resolution program at Pfizer to recover funds lost through discount pricing violations committed by pharmacies in commercial and government contracts.

I became familiar with the ACFE through other fraud investigators when the organization was very young. At that time I was assigned to the Army's Major Procurement Fraud Unit and I declined an opportunity to be "grandfathered" in as a CFE because I didn't think I needed the affiliation — man, was I ever wrong! Some years later I began to see and hear of CFEs being lauded for conducting significantly important fraud examinations, and the credibility of the CFE credential was spreading rapidly. I joined the association after leaving the military and studied rigorously to prepare for and pass the CFE Exam to achieve my credential.

The network of CFEs in almost every industry imaginable is amazing. Fraud examinations rely heavily on knowledge and understanding the technical aspects of the industry. A connection to other CFEs means having a library of fraud information at my fingertips.

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.

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While working at a fraud investigation and consulting firm, a textile manufacturing facility in a rural area asked me to assess how the company's manufacturing and production line had lost more than $11 million over the previous seven years. I'd been involved in a wide variety of fraud examinations, but this case left the most memorable impression.

After a few weeks of reviewing supply and accounts payable policies, and interviews with management and line-level employees, I saw that this case was a textbook fraud where there was no oversight over the requisition, receipt and payment of supplies. The supply supervisor held responsibility for all of these functions and had falsified invoices for the payment of supplies and equipment that was never delivered to the company. In fact, there were spare parts ordered for machinery that was no longer used in the manufacturing plant. This supervisor created a fake supplier using a family name, submitted false invoices for the purchase of materials never delivered and set up a bank account in the phony company name to deposit the checks from the fraud.

After identifying the supply supervisor as a suspect, I had to prove a case against her. The investigation included months of surveillance, undercover activity and an intensive forensic review of all financial transactions and records related to the manufacturing line.

After collecting overwhelming circumstantial evidence, I presented the case to local law enforcement authorities. Based on the complexity of the case, law enforcement recommended that I continue to proceed with an interview of the suspect. During the interview, the suspect made several admissions and asked to go home to retrieve documents that could refute the circumstantial evidence. Two hours later, the suspect returned to the company, and after exiting a vehicle, immediately committed suicide in the parking lot. In her hand she held a suicide note addressed to me. Law enforcement continued the investigation and used the evidence from my fraud examination to substantiate the fraud. I was able to assist the client to recover a portion of their loss from their insurance. Shortly after this incident, I accepted a position with Pfizer.