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Carolina Pineda Martinez: Compliance folks aren’t the ‘Bonus Prevention Department’

The real world isn’t just good guys and bad guys. There’s a story behind every compliance problem, and even though it may not excuse anyone’s behavior, it should be a reminder that people just like us make mistakes — sometimes really big mistakes.

That was the point of a unique event Fordham University hosted on March 22.

Alice BrightSky, Senior Director of the Corporate Compliance LLM and MSL program, assembled a panel with Rashmi Airan, a Columbia Law grad and former practicing attorney who was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Also on the panel was Richard Bistrong, a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog. He’s a former sales executive in the security and defense industry convicted of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Joining them were Serina Vash, a former prosecutor and current executive director of NYU Law School’s program on corporate compliance and enforcement, and William McMurry of the FBI.

On the surface, there seemed to be two distinct sides of this panel — those who committed a crime and did the time, and those who stood for justice. But during the discussion, we in the audience learned that people don’t simply decide to commit crimes of this scale. Instead, for Airan and Bistrong and many others, it’s often a series of small bad choices that eventually produce a profoundly bad result.

Airan and Bistrong share similar backgrounds. Both were successful and charging up the corporate and professional ladders. Both had families and were planning for a bright future. They saw themselves as strong and independent high achievers, looking out for themselves.

At the critical moment, though, both lacked ethical guidance, internally and externally. Both disregarded the right path for the wrong one so they could achieve “success.”

As Bistrong said, to him the compliance folks were the “Bonus Prevention Department.”

One particular lesson Bistrong drew from his experience is that organizations often forget about or ignore those who deliver results from remote locations. There’s often no bond between headquarters and the field, even though the hinterlands are where the business usually grows.

One byproduct of the drive for success for those in remote locations is that just when their ethical values are being challenged, they also start to think that asking for help from colleagues or family members is a sign of weakness.

It became clear from listening to Airan and Bistrong and the two other panelists that organizations need to make consistent efforts to be closer to their employees. More personal, human-to-human concern and contact is what’s needed. Those in the field and in other high-pressure roles need to be seen by the compliance folks as colleagues who need support and encouragement.

In other words, organizations and their compliance groups need to shed the concept of the Bonus Prevention Department by remembering the unique challenges that every person faces —  not only as an employee but as a parent, as a son or daughter, and as a member of a community.


Carolina Pineda Martinez, pictured above, is pursuing her LLM (May 2017) in Corporate Compliance at Fordham University School of Law. She holds a law degree from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia. She was previously Legal Manager and International Trade Counsel for Latin America at Procter & Gamble Colombia. She can be reached via LinkedIn here and by email here.

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  1. Good post, Carolina. I think compliance folks must do a better job in showing salespeople, "field managers" and other result-driven employees that compliance does not work against productivity. Unfortunately, this is not often a self-evident truth, or one supported by market practices.

  2. Well said Carolina. I once worked at an organisation where staff greeted me with the words "what's it like working for the most hated department in the (global) company?" I laughed and replied "I used to be a regulator. This is going to be easy!"
    Eventually that person became my greatest ally and advocate in the company because we worked with the business by getting off our backsides and 'walking around'. I use the acronym GOYA or Get Off Your Ass! It's good advice for management & great advice for compliance folk. 2ears and 1 mouth- use in that proportion.

  3. Timely post, Carolina. Compliance is larger than mandatory conduct in adhering to laws and regulations. It is about fostering a culture of personal accountability. Without appreciating a higher sense of accountability, compliance becomes an effort in futility. Recently, following a sensituve review of a Client's business practices the CEO asked me to present training on ethical leadership and responsible conduct. He felt clarification of culpability started with understanding ethical conduct. Compliance is not a substitution for accountable behavior! Ethical conduct is an organizational responsibility and your last sentence nails it for me in terms of competing interests and unintentional consequences.

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