A man we'll call Steve thought he had it all. He was truly living the good life when we was selling magazine advertising and making 6 figures at only 20-years-old. It was a life (and salary) that most 20-somethings only dream of. He had, what he thought, was an amazing boss. As he put it, "my director, on the surface, seemed like the most awesome boss. He was charismatic, he knew how to lead. He was a retired Marine and was incredibly good at motivating his subordinates."
In the beginning and for a long time, Steve thought of his boss, who we'll call "Rich," as a mentor. "He took me under his wing to train me as his protégé," Steve recalled.
Rich was also a star in the company, as Steve points out, "Rich was known in the company to create advertising initiatives that would be insanely profitable."
Below the surface though, a sinister side to his boss lurked and Steve would eventually be the one to expose that darkness.
By chance, Steve would eventually uncover files on Rich's computer that would bring down not only his boss, but the CEO of the magazine he worked for and almost the whole company itself - and it all happened because of the actions of Rich long before Steve's discovery of just how terrible his boss really was. There were a number of warning signs that Steve could have recognized, but he was young and making a lot of money, so he turned a blind eye to it or was generally ignorant of it.
So what were the warning signs?
They started with Rich's managerial practices. After Rich would start the "insanely profitable" initiatives, Steve explains, "He would then move one of his subordinates into managerial role on that project so he would move on to the next initiative. What most people didn't realize was that his initiatives were only sustainable for maybe 2 to 3 years before they would start losing money. But because Rich was such a prominent figure in the company, the manager who took over the project would take the blame for it, citing 'lack of proper management skills.' So Rich was largely untouchable and never took the blame."
Rich knew how to get others to take the fall for what should have been his failures. But unbelievably, that was far from the worst thing Rich did. Another warning sign that Steve missed was how Rich managed his people, not just his projects. "One of the things I always thought was weird about how Rich managed his subordinates was that he required everyone to provide him with their PC login and password."
That's right, Rich required all his employees to provide the password to their computers. This was in the early '00s, so it was easy to explain away his reasons, as Steve discusses, "our IT was barely able to build a corporate network so this was our best way to monitor what people did on their PC's (or so I was told)."
Of course, what Rich did was far more, and far shadier, than the standard monitoring.
Once Rich had his employees login information, he used it. A lot.
"It turns out, after hours, Rich would log on to their PC's and would not just go through their company emails, he would also look through people's browsing history. He would set everyone's browsers to automatically save any passwords entered, so he'd read their browser emails (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.). His justification was that he was looking for any evidence of corporate espionage or violations of proprietary information."
But this apparently was not enough for Rich. Steve explains, "One of the most irritating was that he required everyone to save their company Outlook .PST files (where emails are stored) to his network drive. This allowed him to monitor people's company emails from his own computer."
While his excuse was to look out for corporate espionage, it turns out he was the one doing the spying.
By spying, Rich gained one huge advantage. By now, the sales team that Steve was overseeing for the magazine had 200 salespeople and support staff. This included an accounting team. This accounting team communicated with the parent company and because Rich had access to all their emails, he was now privy to lots of restricted financial information and more importantly, allowed him to "predict where budgetary changes were being made."
Obviously this gave Rich a big advantage over other subsidiaries when budgets were being designed. Steve breaks it down like this, "Rich would use this to maximize how he strategized his next project initiatives. He clandestinely knew where the money was going to be before anyone else so he had time to come up with plans on how to get a bigger chunk of that cash. On the outside, his ability to do this seemed almost preternatural."
This only served to shine the spotlight on Rich even more, earning him more praise and his reputation grew.
Until he went on a two-week vacation and left Steve in charge of the "monitoring."
As Rich explained how the monitoring worked and where to find the files, Steve was shocked. He immediately understand what this meant, as he said, "Internally, I was utterly aghast at how much he was looking at our personal communications. But, I was young, naïve, and making a salary that most 20-somethings could only dream of so I thought this was normal corporate operations."
At this point, Steve was completely burned out on the job. No amount of money was worth the stress he was under. He describes his life like this: "I was so perpetually stressed...I was working from 6am to 11pm 6 days a week, not including my commute of 1 hour each direction in Los Angeles traffic. I was subsisting on 4 to 5 hours of sleep per day during the week. I would be so stressed that my Saturday nights were spent in isolation on my computer playing video games. I wouldn't sleep until the sun came up on Sunday, then I would sleep all through Sunday until Monday morning. I knew I was working myself into an early grave."
He was ready to get out and as luck would have it, when Rich went on vacation and left Steve in charge, he discovered not only a way out, but a way to get revenge on Rich for all the stress he had put himself and the other employees under and for the unethical way he had been monitoring their web browsing history and their emails.
And even that discovery came from a bit of dumb luck.
One day, while Rich was on his vacation, a near disaster struck the office. A man disposed of his smoke down a plastic drain, as he had done often in the past. This time though, it caught the other discarded butts on fire and smoke billowed out, setting off the building's smoke alarms. The office was evacuated and all the employees were sent to finish the day working from home.
Before he left, Steve copied all the email files to his computer to continue the monitoring program while he worked remotely and by accident, copied Rich's files also. Files he had not seen before. Because he did this, as he says, he discovered something that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Since he had the files, curiosity got the best of him and he started looking at the old emails. First what he found shocked him. Later, it disturbed him and shook him to his core. It was then that he hatched the revenge plan he had been thinking about.
The first emails he read were correspondence between Rich and another branch manager that was doing the same thing he was doing with the finance emails. Steve explains, "Turns out, another director in another branch was also doing the same thing and they were joking about how they were able to make so much money and set up the manager they left behind to fail. They talked about how they would share this financial information with advertisers, other publishing firms, etc. to put themselves in strategically advantageous positions for prime accounts. In a nutshell, what they were doing was sharing corporate information without tacit approval from the legal team. I saw junior associates get taken to court over this."
Unethical and possibly illegal activity was one thing and at this point, Steve knew Rich was a shady character.
What he found next was even worse.
The next bunch of emails were very surprising. It turned out, Rich thought he was quite the charmer. He had been busted NINE times for harassing female employees. All nine were "mysteriously 'removed' from the company." The company had settled the cases quietly and because Rich was such a great producer, "the CEO turned a blind eye...and then moved Rich to a different team to avoid any negative perceptions."
And according to Steve, these emails were eye-opening. He says, "Many of these emails between Rich and these female colleagues was very explicit, and it was very clear his advances were unwanted. Lots of pics of Rich's junk, lots of pics of Rich and his wife engaged in steamy activities hoping the female colleague would want to join in."
But, if you can believe, as Steve went deeper and read more, things got much, much worse.
The next folder Steve opened completely erased whatever was left of Rich's reputation in Steve's eyes. He says, "Rich also had a folder called 'New Accounts.' By this point, my image of Rich was shattered. The guy I thought was a great mentor was just a sleazebag. So I looked into that folder, and found a massive collection of some of the most explicit child smut. My mind will be forever haunted by the filth that I found there. Even just thinking about it now makes me want to cry for the lost innocence of those poor children. So I wanted to sink this guy."
Sinking him would be pretty easy. This guy belonged in jail.
Steve's plan was simple, he would get the company to discover Rich's secrets without implicating himself as the one that started it. Steve explains, "My thought process was this: If I straight up reported all the inappropriate image of children I found, it would be obvious where the reporting came from since I was the only one who had access to his files. I didn't want to have a vindictive angry Marine breathing down my neck. So instead, I reported the accounting irregularities through our anonymous company hotline. This would trigger an immediate investigation which includes a thorough audit of a person's computer. Even though Rich had his laptop with him on his vacation, his desktop computer was still very much online at the office."
And that was it. Rich was toast and he knew it. Steve says, "Accounting and legal took the investigation insanely seriously. Things moved so fast that I got a call from Rich the next day with a request. 'I need you to write up two notes. One note says 'This is my two week notice' and the second note says 'I tender my resignation effective immediately.' If the CEO asks about me, hand him whichever note you think is best.'"
Rich knew he was done for. He was trying to get ahead of it, as Steve notes, "He wanted to resign and collect a severance before the investigation concluded, knowing that the company would have to call the police when they found his child smut stash. If he resigned before the investigation finished, chances are the company would just sweep it under the rug since the 'problem is now gone.'"
But instead Steve was in control and stayed ahead of Rich.
Steve got him, saying, "I never handed the note to the CEO. And the police were called. Rich was arrested. His wife was also arrested. His daughter, which turns out, was one of the kids in the images, was taken in by another family member who completely cut themselves off from Rich."
Justice for a horrible person. Rich was in jail and had lost everything. But what about the company that allowed Rich to get away with all his bad behavior over all those years? They went down too.
Steve explains, "(It) turns out the CEO filed bankruptcy for one of the magazines to secure additional $15 million in funding. But instead of applying that money to the failing magazine, he pocketed $12 million of it and spent it on lavish homes in other countries. This led to the CEO also being arrested as well."
By then though, Steve had left. The long hours and toxic environment took their toll and he couldn't wait to move on. And it sounds like he made the right decision.
"Last I heard, Rich was still in jail, the CEO was penniless, and the entire company was sold off to another parent company because it had gotten so toxic to be associated with it."