ICT Views

Mark Dreier - The biggest fraud you never heard of

by: (Associate Director, Research and Development) on

Well I hadn’t heard about it anyway. Not until last night, when I watched a film about it.

Those of you who are familiar with my blogs may recall when I blogged about an edition of Storyville I’d watched entitled ‘Inside Job’ – an Academy Award winning documentary about the 2008 financial crisis.

Well, Storyville was back on BBC4 this week. And since my wife has finished following Celebrity Big Brother, we found some time to watch it. 

(Yes, I know I may be accused of taking my work home with me, but financial crime stuff like this is genuinely interesting. It really happens. People really do it. How do they manage to keep it going for so long and what on earth motivates them?)


It seems the documentary is officially titled ‘Unravelled – an ambitious man, an immoral plan’. You can find the official website (including a trailer) here.

money-largeSuccessful and influential New York lawyer Mark Dreier had big ambitions. He stopped being able to access legitimate credit lines by which he could grow his law firm, so he invented some more. But it panned out that what he was selling was fake investments into something which didn’t exist.

In the end, he was spinning plates 24/7 – it had come down to the most basic of stuff: even pretending to be other people, just to keep the scam going.

 The Highlights

As per my previous blog, I’m not proposing to run through the whole show. Suffice to say it was good and you should watch it (not the most elaborate of reviews !)

There are, however, a number of things which particularly stood out for me:

  1. ‘The greatest asset for fraud is trust’. This is very sad but also very true

  2. Mark Dreier was Harvard educated, from an upper middle class background and a driven individual. He built and ran his own business

  3. It seemed he had a sizeable ego to feed and that he felt financial success and celebrity somehow validated him

  4. Somebody upset him (a very rich property magnate from NY called Solow). This spurred him on in his actions (acting as a catalyst of sorts)

  5. He saw an opportunity and he exploited it

  6. He didn’t seem to think what he had done was all that bad (‘only 26 victims…’)

  7. It kept his business running, his staff employed and his charitable functions in the public eye. But he did also have several multi-million dollar properties (NY Apartment & a home in the Hamptons), a very presentable art collection (Picasso, Matisse, Warhol’s et al) and a massive yacht.  So it seems maybe it wasn’t all for the greater good. There was some (lots) of personal gain.

So why have I highlighted these seven points ?

Warning Signs

The reason is that a number of them are far from unique to Mr Dreier.

One of the things we teach on our Financial Crime Prevention courses (which have quite a weighting towards fraud), is that there are warning signs. These commonly include personal and behavioural factors such as those mentioned above.

That’s why it is so interesting. Like I said at the top - this stuff really happens.


Mark Dreier pleaded guilty. He was looking at a sentence of 100 years plus.

In the end, he got 20 years. The majority of his creditors received little of their money back, and the Dreier LLP (his firm) was bankrupted, with all staff losing their jobs.

So just one question remains: why hadn’t I heard of him ?

There’s a simple answer to that. The trial and sentence were running pretty much concurrently with an even bigger fish.

His name? Mr Madoff.

If you can’t track down the film, there’s an excellent interview with Mark Dreier (by 60 minutes) on YouTube (NB – ICT is not responsible for external content).


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