Gregory shocker: Who throws it all away for 100 grand?

Gregory's former office.

Gregory’s former office, on Tuesday evening…

This morning at the Capital City Club, which sits 25 stories up from Columbia’s economic development office, the regulars were all abuzz with the news that one of their number, Wayne Gregory, was in the county jail on embezzlement charges.

You know how shocked everyone was at his club when Winthorpe was arrested in “Trading Places?” It was like that, only not funny. There was a good deal of breathless talk about “one of our number” and so forth.

It had only been a few months since Gregory, 36, had replaced a longtime regular, Jim Gambrell, but we had started getting used to seeing him around. I had not had a chance to get to know him, but I knew who he was, and figured we’d cross paths at some point. Maybe not, now.

As I said in a comment yesterday (yeah, this whole post consists mostly of stuff I said before, but I thought this was worth a separate post):

Here’s what I want to know… Who risks it all for 100 grand? Who — among people who have good jobs (and his base pay was $110,000) — risks prison for a year’s pay, essentially?

Assuming I were someone who would steal, I’d be the sort of thief who would abscond with something more like $100 million. And that’s borderline… I mean, even if one has no morals, one should have a sense of proportion. A year’s pay just wouldn’t be worth it, aside from moral considerations.

Maybe it’s because, as a journalist, I’ve been in a lot of jails and prisons. I’m telling you, people, you don’t want to go there.

One last point: I’ve seen a lot of comments about “Here we go again” with our poorly run city. Well, yes and no. The one thing that distinguished this from some of the other recent messes is that the city immediately fired Gregory. In the long, painful separations of police chiefs, city managers and the like in recent years, we seldom saw such a moment of clarity and decision.

Of course, as Kathryn pointed out yesterday, Gregory had been charged with a crime. And I suppose that draws a bright line that has been missing in other situations. But in any case, the quick action makes this instance quite different.

27 thoughts on “Gregory shocker: Who throws it all away for 100 grand?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    And yes, I understand that many people would leap at the chance to steal $100,000, as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our prisons are filled with people who stole far less.

    But my point is, it’s weird for someone who made more than that in a year to take such a risk…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I sort of hesitate to pass this on because it’s hearsay, but I trust the source, and I find the nugget interesting…

    A friend of mine, on hearing about the news yesterday, immediately asked some of the people who worked with Gregory every day what they knew, which wasn’t much. At some point in the conversation she asked, as people do in such situations, whether he had a wife and/or kids.

    These folks who had been working closely with him since September said they did not know.

    I thought that was unusual…

  3. Doug Ross

    People steal when they think they can get away with it. There are people who make $100K a year who will cheat on their expense accounts to make $10 a week.

    A guy who did this over an extended period of time likely has a lot of other ethics issues.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, this reflects our different takes on the world. You see money as much more of a motivator — and as being behind more things — than I do.

      I’m a guy who doesn’t like to do anything FOR money. I like to do things because I believe they need doing, and if I can get a paycheck for it, great. I mean, I recognize that a person needs a certain amount of money to live in this world, so you need to do some work for compensation. And if I work hard at a difficult job, I expect a decent compensation. But there needs to be a more compelling reason to do the work that just the money. For me. That’s why it’s hard for me to imagine risking it all for any amount that would be less than fairy-godmother, completely-change-your-life-forever money. Not a mere year’s pay.

      And I tend to project that onto other people. But I will concede that the point of view that Doug ascribes to other people may be more common than my attitude. There is evidence for his point of view.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And no, I’m NOT saying that I would start breaking bad if the money was right. I’m saying that if I WERE the sort to break bad, I still wouldn’t be interested for any pedestrian amount. The figure would have to knock your socks off.

        I’m talking mad stacks, yo.

      2. Doug Ross

        He stole because he wanted to steal. The amount is irrelevant.

        How much LESS money would you take to do your job? Would you take 25% less? Would you take 25% more if it were offered or would you feel guilty? You can’t think of anything you could do with additional money that would benefit your family?

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          History shows that embezzlers usually don’t want to “steal.” They tell themselves they are just borrowing. They never seem to be able to pay it back. It’s the payday lending scheme for white collar people.

          1. Doug Ross

            I don’t buy that. How would a person in Gregory’s position “pay back” the money? He was buying gift cards and using false companies to funnel money. It’s easy to steal and impossible to pay back.

            1. Doug Ross

              He wasn’t a bookkeeper who had access to the accounts to pay it back. I could see people in those positions doing that. But people who submit phony bills and expenses have no shot of paying it back.

            2. Doug Ross

              “He surely thought he could cover it when he started. ”

              Pure speculation counselor. It’s more likely he thought he could get away with it.

              And if he has repeated the behavior in Columbia, that would be even further proof that he planned it all along.

            3. Doug Ross

              He did what he thought he could get away with. Except he screwed up. He’s a common thief who got caught.

            4. Kathryn Fenner

              Actually I think embezzlers are worse than common thieves. Embezzlement involves a breech of trust.

          2. Silence

            I think that he thought he’d figured out a “foolproof” scheme to steal money and get away with it, make it so obfuscated as to be untraceable back to him. It worked fora while, but he was wrong, eventually. Just speculation on my part though. I’ve only known a few embezzlers in my time, but I’ve known a lot of otherwise ethical people who stretch the truth on taxes and expense reports…

    2. Norm Ivey

      Daddy once told me the story of a man in his boyhood church who would cash checks out of the collection plate because he was “a little short this week”. At then end of the year he had a stack of checks made out to the church.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    A “thief” plans the score. Embezzlers usually don’t.

    I do find it extremely odd that he was so circumspect about his personal life, especially around here. Blackmailer got him?

  5. Silence

    So, just to wrap up:
    Be a black lady, steal $1,000,000,000 – Get a demotion but continue to work for the elections commission.
    Be a white guy, steal $100,000 in Olive Garden & Best Buy gift cards – Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    1. Doug Ross

      Incompetence is not a fire-able offense in Columbia. If you sleep with your subordinates and have dependency issues, that entitles you to a special pension gift bonus. If you aren’t qualified to meet the job requirements for city manager, they will change the qualifications for you. If you crash your car into someone under questionable circumstances, severely injuring the other driver, you receive a “get out of jail free” card. If you rig a sale of a multi-million dollar old warehouse and then change the closing date to be six months after the original five month closing date, nobody even bothers to ask why,

      Columbia – Famously Bought!

          1. Doug Ross

            Has there been any public comment on why the delay on closing may take longer than the originally scheduled closing period?

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