A misplaced paycheck stub started it all. Gary Foster, a former assistant vice president in Citigroup’s internal treasury finance department, said the stub — left next to an office printer — showed that a subordinate made $10,000 more than him.
“I was shocked,” Foster said during an interview with John Gill, J.D., CFE, ACFE vice president – education, at the Wednesday closing General Session. “I was in love with the company. I felt completely devastated. I’m working like crazy. … I felt betrayed.”
During the next two years, Foster’s resentment against Citibank festered. Finally, he realized that he needed some payback for what he deserved.
He’d been investigating an account of unreconciled, unclaimed money of about $772,000. The bank wanted to get the account to zero. So, Foster obliged, and he wired the money to his personal Chase account. He said Citibank generally didn’t audit anything under $1 million. His department was dealing with billions a day, so he rationalized that Citibank wouldn’t notice his embezzlement. And he was correct.
At first, he experienced some guilt. “I felt like part of me was betraying another part of me. … I've just never done anything like this,” he said. But he said he soon learned to live with the guilt.
He laid low and didn’t illegally transfer funds for about a year and a half. But then he had a thought. “I realized that I could get all my goals that I wanted,” Foster said. “My favorite thing is traveling the world.”
He realized he could feed his travel hobby and provide for his kids. “Maybe, I should look at this a different way,” he said. “Maybe this is God-sent. … The narcissism ran amok. I started feeling confident.” He began wiring more cash from other accounts to his private account with required second authorizations, which were easy to get because the bank thoroughly trusted him, he said.
For the next six years or so, he quietly stole $22 million. He’d manually manipulate numbers in Excel spreadsheets for amortization and accretion and then move them to a general ledger, he said.
He was able to pull off his embezzlement because he kept the numbers relatively small. And he’d steal in the middle of the month instead of the end when auditors might be more attuned.
Foster said that he was able to fool the external auditors — most of whom were inexperienced. “These young kids who come in to do the legwork … really don't know what they're doing. Maybe it’s their arrogance, or they're pretending they know what's going on,” he said. “I could just play dumb with them because if they think you're stupid then they figure they're running circles around you. … They won't ask that many questions because they don't know what to ask.” Foster emphasizes that external auditing firms need to send in experienced auditors and “not kids that just came out of school.”
Foster resigned about six months before Citibank discovered his crimes. The firm caught him because he’d violated his embezzlement rules — he wired $3 million at the end of the month. Foster said that if he’d still worked at the bank he might have been able to smooth-talk his way out of his slip-up.
In June of 2011, Foster had buckled his seat belt in a plane that was ready to take off on a flight from Paris to Bangkok when his phone exploded with texts from family and friends — and from an FBI agent. Citibank had discovered his fraud.
Friends encouraged him to disappear to Morocco, but he didn’t want to leave his kids in the U.S. When he landed in Bangkok, he told the FBI he’d surrender at JFK Airport.
In June 29, 2012, after pleading guilty in September of that year for siphoning $22 million from Citibank between 2003 and 2010, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. According to a Reuters article, the government seized cars and property from Foster worth approximately $14 million, which he forfeited pursuant to a plea agreement. (See “Ex-Citigroup VP gets eight years for stealing $22 million,” by Jessica Dye, Reuters, June 29, 2012.) Foster said he served seven years and six months of his sentence, and he was released on probation in October 2019.
“For kids who are coming out from college today: You know you think you are one person, and then you test it, and you realize that there is some darkness in you,” Foster said at the end of the interview. “My advice is just stay true to who you are. Don't make circumstances, don’t make your emotions, don't make anyone change the nature of you because you're a unique person. We all get upset.
“Looking back, I appreciate all my coworkers, and I never had any disdain for the person who was making more than me,” he said.