The Innocent Have Nothing To Hide… The Guilty Can Hide Nothing

by Mark Manney
Posted On: 5/15/2019

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment of Mark Manney's Loss Prevention Chronicles, which we began in our September/October issue. Manney was the National Automatic Merchandising Association's security/
loss prevention know­ledge source partner from 2004 to 2010. He has been featured in leading industry publications over the years, including VENDING TIMES and Sunbelt Vending & OCS. At the suggestion of Sunbelt's publisher, the late Ben Ginsberg, Manney authored this series of what are, in effect, detective stories based on his real-life experiences in working with vending and foodservice operations to create an environment of discipline to combat shrinkage and tighten control.

By my fifth Monday-to-Friday visit to the Midwest Prairie Food Services, I had developed a warm friendship and bond with the younger David Barron I was training to lead the company's loss-prevention efforts. His eagerness to learn was continually fed by the obvious results they were having.

As I was visiting some locations for the third time, I was witnessing a dramatic difference in their operation, in the employees' attitudes, especially after the bad ones had been unceremoniously uprooted. The locations' P&Ls were reflecting the amazing profit gains of the dishonest-employee weeding process.

At the last stop of the week, we rolled into a new cafeteria in a 3,500-employee beef-processing plant from an owner heading into bankruptcy. The location's cost of goods sold (COGs) were super high. We were there at the dinner break for the two-shift operation to meet the three-year manager, William "Billy" Anderson, whom Prairie Food Services had inherited. We were going to investigate, interview, train the manager on the customized loss-prevention results program, then continue to our next stop.

I operated by two truisms learned after hundreds of assessments, investigations, interviews and interrogations. If undetected theft is possible, it is happening. I knew dishonest employees, customers and direct delivery suppliers all needed one thing – undetected theft opportunity. My mantra was to find the undetected theft opportunity and work backwards from it: eliminate it, narrow it, make the risk outweigh the reward, put road blocks and detours in front of it, or set up traps and ambushes to bait and expose the betrayals behind it.

Then, when the perpetrator's head is firmly in the noose, alert the media and hold a public hanging in the town square during employee rush hour. Even when no one was caught red-handed, the net profit line of the P&L suddenly becomes vibrant, its healthy recovery announcing to everyone that sly, dark, invisible theft has simply stopped because of the bright, revealing light of the controls now built into the day-to-day operating culture of the cafeteria.   

My mantra was: Never underestimate a dishonest employee's bold, greedy stupidity or their creative shrewd cunning. I learned that over decades of playing investigative peek-a-boo with business thieves,  rom entry-level yahoos with no imagination shoving their hand into the company cookie jar, to long-term trusted managers using stealth misdirection and super-slick elaborate schemes to steal the cookie jar itself, to every type of greedy, needy thief in between. I peeled away the layers of the cafeteria onion knowing one fact with two conclusions: under weak or no controls, no one should be considered beyond temptation or suspicion. NO ONE!

Silent Shouts

We watched three cafeteria breaks in two days ebb and flow using a loss-prevention magnifying glass to study the internal and external physical security, as well as the critical cash and product chain of custody in and out of the cafeteria. Then we analyzed the office that Billy ran and sat down with the clean-cut, three-year manager, thought to be a steady and experienced location leader.

Billy was highly endorsed by the previous owner. He had checked out with the Prairie criminal background screening company and, by all appearances, he seemed like a recruiting poster for a location manager. A well-groomed family man, Billy presented a competent golden boy, "I wish this guy had married my daughter image." I had made a career out of reading operations, but more importantly reading the people who operated them and I detected a hidden arrogance under the surface of Billy that set off my radar. I had learned to consider arrogant people prime suspects because that character flaw was one of the fuels that had fed so many embezzlement fires I had put out. One on one is when I threw away the magnifying glass and pulled out my microscope to go past the surface into the hidden.

The art and the science of the informal "fact-finding behavioral analysis interview" is much, much, more subtle than the formal one or the end-game "accusatory interrogation." No recorder is used to freeze-frame every word for later dissection or to file as an exhibit in a case jacket. No witness is necessary and the room setting doesn't matter. It's relaxed, fluid and, if done skillfully, an informal interview that the interviewee has no idea is being conducted and will leave him or her with no cover…and unaware of his or her nakedness.

I knew how to craft the layers of questions that were designed not so much to expose or press buttons as they were gently interlocked to squeeze out the uncontrollable, the unconscious, the revealing body language of both the innocent who have nothing to hide … and the guilty who can hide nothing.

As the discussion went on, Billy didn't realize it but his fresh-faced, seemingly all- American thirty-something family man persona, that I suspected he was acutely aware of and played on, was slowly peeled away, betraying his secret sins to both me and quick study Barron. Not by what Billy said – words in an interview can be meaningless –  but by what his unconscious, uncontrollable body language silently shouted.

After the visit, Barron and I sat in the parking lot waiting like two vultures on a branch. Sure enough, Billy left soon after he thought we were long down the road. Billy got into a $40,000 SUV – and during the visit, I had noticed he wore a watch that cost at least $800. During our wide-ranging conversation, it came out that Billy's hobbies were golf and boating, both expensive habits.

During casual conversation, it also came out that Billy's wife only worked part-time and both of them came from modest blue-collar backgrounds. But as far as I was concerned, the indisputable lead was the young man's body language when I reviewed with Billy my "Loss Prevention Results Cafeteria Training Manual: The 5 Loss Prevention Common Denominators." As I delved into explaining dishonest employee national statistics, motivations, and the rationalizations thieves use, my suspicions shifted into high gear.

Guilty Eyes and Fake Boredom

A guilty person will often maintain forced excessive eye contact, but it's cold, hard and unnatural. When I suddenly broached the subject of all dishonest employees' common lack of character and homemade greed, I saw an insulted chill reflected back from Billy's suddenly tightening gaze. Bingo! … baiting a suspected thief with a disguised insult is a tactic that often works if you catch the individual off guard.

Billy's ego had just been verbally slapped across the face. An innocent person will have no reaction; the guilty will usually stiffen, twitch, look angry, or look like Billy did, insulted. Guilty eyes are interpretive evidence that appears as the result of the mental stress ongoing hidden theft causes. I sensed Billy's seemingly calm demeanor was forced … under the surface Billy was stretched as taut as piano wire. The type of mental stress I was fostering and Billy ended up wearing often causes a facial mask-like feature that can't be maintained for long when the subject of theft is in play for long conversations.

I knew how to probe and poke, weighing and measuring the reactions of those hiding their betrayals and secret fear… being exposed! Guilty eyes can have a hunted look or become hooded. One of the common signs that hidden deception is in play is when a stressful question is asked, the guilty person simply cannot maintain normal eye contact.

The average person maintains a low of 40% direct eye contact to a high of 60% during a normal conversation. Billy's unstressed eye contact was dead center in the middle. I had measured it a number of times during the visit during harmless conversation. When I shifted the conversation and touched on theft issues, Billy's eye contact noticeably jumped up… almost staring into my eyes with a forced, unnatural, too-direct gaze.

I asked question after question on the cash controls, noticing squints in the corners of Billy's eyes, sudden tightening, subtle yet unnatural. I knew the muscles around the eyes cannot be voluntarily controlled to the extent they can completely hide a dishonest employee's forced innocent behavior. Many guilty employees will close their eyes when answering a stressful question they are responding to with a lie … or a stressful question connected to their thefts.

They have no idea they are doing it, just as Billy did three times. Billy was unaware he was blinking at these exact moments or that I was reading and mentally recording it. Some dishonest employees will look up, down or to the side. Some guilt-riddled thieves will use their hand to cover their eyes or mouth when they respond to a stressful question or probe when answering with a lie. But I knew young Billy was definitely a blinker.

Some liars follow the verbal deed with a grooming gesture, lint picking, nervous scratching, or eyes darting around the room. But Billy's reaction to the graduated stressful questions, besides blinking, was a forced, successive, yawning boredom that increased as my questions and discussion about cafeteria theft persisted. With some, it is a displayed boredom that is subconsciously intended to convince the person asking the questions that the person listening is so far removed from even the possibility of this devious conduct, that he is actually bored by the discussion about it. It isn't a thought-out tactic or an intentional plan; it is just a reflex reaction by some, not many, but I had run across it before.

Many career criminals display boredom when confronted. It was one of the classic symptoms of guilt taught in an interviewing course I had taken 25 years earlier and had run across enough times since. Billy was definitely an unconscious guilty blinker, a phony yawner – and then there was the Tamper-Evident Bag reaction!

I had designed a Tamper Evident Bag vending attendant/cashier cash collection program that implemented throughout Prairie had been one of the reasons the cost of goods was falling in location after location. Billy's reaction to the program of isolating cash by individuals was more eye blinks and yawns. And just for a second, when I showed Billy a sample of the bag customized for Prairie with the company's 1-800 employee hotline number printed on it, a furrow of worry creased his brow.

The icing on the cake was spread by Billy when he bragged about his perfect attendance. I knew he didn't miss a day for three years because he was a dedicated employee. When I found out no one but Billy ever counted the money or ever prepared the deposits and Billy also ran a register daily, I knew he was under-ringing and skimming daily.

Sniper Focus

The suspicions all came together as Barron and I were driving away, soon after leaving Billy driving away in his expensive, gleaming SUV. Where did Billy get money for his high-end lifestyle? Barron called HR for Billy's date of birth and Social Security number. Then, with those two sets of numbers, I called Everett, my retired FBI friend who owned an Internet background screening company. Everett called back in a few minutes with the three-part screen results, a national criminal state-by-state search, credit header report and an asset search. The findings left me laughing out loud, then planning exactly how to catch the manager in the cash theft act.

It seems all three background categories had a hit. Fresh-faced Billy had a felony embezzlement conviction eight years earlier, working as an assistant manager in a fast-food restaurant, but the company's criminal screen only went back seven years … Everett did a lifetime search. Billy also had numerous liens and judgments from half a dozen credit card companies leading up to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy less than one year before he started working as the cafeteria manager for the previous owner. All are public data pulled off the information super highway. The kicker was the asset search. Since the cafeteria opened and Billy had control of the deposits, over the years he had bought two SUVs, and a boat, all owned outright with no bank loans outstanding!

With the complete lack of accountability from the previous owner's operation, we knew exactly how Billy was probably skimming, but more importantly, exactly how to trap him and prove it. We agreed to give Billy enough time and space to completely relax from the recent discussion, feel safe, and continue what I thought was a long-term successful lifestyle addiction thefts. I also felt that even though Billy had a felony arrest and conviction record, there was a hint of youthful bulletproof cocky arrogance about him probably borne from the untold thousands of dollars he had embezzled day after week, after month, after year from the trust of the previous owner.

Bull's Eye

A month later, I received a call from Barron just before my next visit that Billy's cafeteria scam had come to an abrupt end. Barron was now flying solo as the Prairie Food Services director of loss prevention with his first case. As we agreed, he had placed a covert camera in Billy's office where the deposits were made.

With indisputable video evidence, Barron had investigated, interrogated and removed Billy, with undeniable proof of his daily cash skimming betrayal, putting into practice the eight interrogations he had sat in on as my witness. The very next day, cafeteria sales increased $500 a day! To the shock and amazement of everyone but me, the sales increase had stayed at about that level every single day since. Billy had been the main reasons the previous owner had to sell the location.

I hung up the phone, thinking about the fresh-faced, corrupt, arrogant Billy, his lavish lifestyle gone … in the blink of a lying blinking eye. I stared in the mirror … forced out a fake mechanical yawn … blinked my eyes rapidly … then laughed out loud.

» Mark Manney is the founder and chief executive of Loss Prevention Results Inc. (LPR). He is also the author of: "The Brave New World of Micromarket Loss Prevention" a 50-plus page step-by-step Micromarket Loss Prevention manual and Food Service Loss Prevention available at VT's bookstore ( For more information on LPR's versatile capabilities, call (919) 812-3602 or email or visit the LPR website at