Early Warning Signs of Financial Chicanery

One of my jobs as an adviser to couples is to inquire about early warning signs.

In the Oct. 13 New Yorker I read the story of one Mathew Martoma, whose long-held secret was outed when the feds arrested him, in front of his wife, on insider trading charges. Luckily for his marriage, that wife was the one person to whom he had revealed the secret.

Readers may recall my detailing a husband’s new secret method of supporting his wife after his business went under: bank robbery (“Money Matters in Couple Relationships: …Be Your Own Detective“).  Martoma is a more cunning crook, but he did tell his wife before she read it in the newspapers. I hope that’s a comfort to her during the next nine years he’ll spend in prison, while she survives with their three children on what’s left after the punitive fines.

If you, like me, are interested in how rich someone has to be before he’s unwilling to risk prison for the next million, you may have read about Martoma’s case.  He was convicted of obtaining and trading on insider information during his tenure at the hedge fund S.A.C. Capital.  A clever young man on the make, he cultivated a relationship with a 76-year-old neurologist, who informed Martoma on the q.t. that an originally promising drug trial for Alzheimers treatment was a flop.


What was Mrs. Martoma’s (Rosemary’s) early warning sign that her husband was a cheat?

Back in the day, in 1999, Matthew attended Harvard Law School. He did OK his first year, even co-founding the Society on Law and Ethics (I couldn’t make this stuff up!). The second term, he sent off 23 applications for judicial clerkships. Before sending, however, he took the precaution of altering his transcripts, changing two B’s and a B+ to A’s.  Despite his protest, that “it was all joke,”  Harvard’s Administrative Board recommended expulsion when one of the judges reported something off about the transcript.

Was Martoma sorry and ashamed. No, he was just warming up.  He hired a lawyer and cooked up the following story.  He had only altered the transcripts to deceive his ambitious parents  (it’s OK to hookwink one’s parents?), but his brother sent the doctored version off by mistake, doing Martoma a favor when he was out of town.  Martoma claimed when he learned of the brother’s mistake,  he decided to withdraw his applications.  As proof, he told Harvard he had emailed secretaries of two professors on Feb. 1, telling them not to send the recommendations he had requested, “as I am no longer looking for a clerkship.”

The Administrative Board didn’t buy that story, because the secretaries didn’t receive the emails—date-stamped by the computer for the evening of Feb. 2–until hours after Martoma was investigated by Harvard’s registrar.

Martoma had one more trick to play.  While he and his lawyer were fighting expulsion, Martoma met and started a tech business with a M.I.T. grad–Computer Data Forensics.  Telling several employees that he was a Harvard lawyer (which, due to his dishonesty, would never come to pass), he financed the company with money his parent’s dug up for him by re-mortaging their home. This company didn’t go well, either, thanks to Martona’s “issues,” but one legal battle is enough for now. The computer company would provide cover to future employers to explain his sudden departure from Harvard; he told everyone of dropping out to start a business.

Computer Data survived long enough for a more devious purpose.  Martoma insisted he had sent the emails on February 1; a server delay must have been the reason they didn’t arrive til after Harvard confronted him.  To prove the server delay argument, he sent his laptop out for analysis to a tech company, which confirmed Martoma’s date. What was the name of that company? Maybe you’re already ahead of me on this one.  Computer Data Forensics–yes, his very own fledgling business.  Harvard didn’t buy it.  Martoma was out. I wonder how his parents financed the second set of legal bills.

So, If Rosemary were to tell me her sad story, I’d want to know if Matthew had revealed the entire secret.  Was she marrying a man who, young and foolish, had once altered his transcripts, or did she know that, rather than regretting his shame and trying to fly right, he had committed successively devious act of deceit and manipulation, without regard for integrity, for his business partner, or for his parents.  And ultimately for his wife and children.

Unlike the wife of the bankrobber, Rosemary had an early warning.  Don’t ignore suspicious stories from your partner. Ask questions, follow the details. Be your own detective (the internet makes it easy), or even hire one.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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