Cynthia Cooper says it isn’t easy to stand up for what is right when your employer doesn’t want to hear the truth.
Cooper, who will deliver the Capps Center’s annual Henry A. Schimberg Lecture on Ethics in Santa Barbara on Sunday night, was vice president for internal audit at high-flying WorldCom in 2000 when she began uncovering billions of dollars worth of fraud in the company’s books.
When she tried to bring it to the attention of her superiors, however, Cooper was surprised to hear them tell her not to worry-and not to pursue it.
“People are very afraid of losing their jobs, so it’s easy to be pressured by their superiors,” she said. “You’ve got to dig down and find your courage. : I wish I could tell you I was a pillar of strength, but there were many times when my hands were shaking and I was very scared.”
WorldCom ended up in bankruptcy in 2002, then the largest corporate fraud in history, and a number of its executives went to jail. The same year, Cooper was named one of Time’s Persons of the Year, along with whistleblowers Sherron Watkins from Enron and Coleen Rowley of the FBI.
Cooper has written a book about her experience and the WorldCom fraud, titled Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower. Her public lecture is scheduled for Sunday, April 13, at 3 p.m. at Victoria Hall Theater (33 W. Victoria St.). Admission is free.