On July 16, 2007, I wrote an editorial in Computerworld titled "Tale of an IT Hero" that was about Dale Frantz, who at the time was the CIO at Auto Warehousing Co. in Tacoma. On Dec. 10, 2010, Dale was sentenced to 71 months in prison for stealing over half a million dollars from Auto Warehousing.
I'm taking the liberty of referring to him as "Dale" because he's a friend of mine. We became friends after learning that we share a common interest in ALS, since we both have relatives who died of the disease, and after spending a lot of time working together on a story about Microsoft's unfair software licensing practices. That story drew scores of letters of appreciation from IT managers who dared to speak up about those practices after Dale solely and fearlessly initiated the battle.
If this were a story about money, which it is not, Auto Warehousing would have benefited tremendously by hiring Dale. My "Tale of an IT Hero" piece was an account of how Dale had the courage to defy conventional wisdom and the skepticism of his peers by switching the company's IT infrastructure from Microsoft to, of all things, Apple. That move saved Auto Warehousing $1.2 million in the first year alone. But again, this is not a story about money.
It is, rather, a story of human frailty, a story of a broken trust, a story of a loving family that has been decimated. I've never met Dale's wife, Angie, but he mentioned her a number of times in the countless hours of phone conversations we've had, and he spoke about her as lovingly as a husband can speak about his wife with another guy. I have had the pleasure of meeting two of Dale's sons, who are outstanding young men, and who clearly idolize their Dad.
As the media coverage of this story points out, Dale's theft at Auto Warehousing wasn't an isolated incident. In 1991 he was fired from his job at a chemical company in Indiana for ordering computer equipment with company funds and then selling it for personal profit. According to media accounts, he was later sentenced to four years in prison for stealing $200,000 from an audio shop in Indiana where he worked as an office manager.
In a letter delivered to the judge who heard his case shortly before his sentencing on Friday, Dale made no excuses for his behavior in identifying himself as "a thief." But he made it known that he was remorseful and that he was working to overcome the problem that had brought him before the judge. Here's an excerpt:
This has been a long and tortured journey that is ending today in your courtroom. As the pre-sentence report indicates, I have struggled with stealing throughout most of my adult life. I've never understood why I have the compulsion to steal in times of financial distress rather than to seek out alternatives.
I am thankful for this case. In my entire life I've never accepted responsibility for my actions. In the prior case where I went to jail I did not take responsibility for the crime. I was found guilty at trial, but mentally never accepted the blame that went with the theft. I fought the case until the bitter end, and even when I lost I maintained my defiant attitude. I think the fact that I'd always run away from the guilt and blame has resulted in my failures in this case.
I was relieved on the day I was terminated from AWC. Relieved of the pressure of the job, but more importantly it meant that the double-life of "successful executive" and "embezzler" was over. A lot changed on that day and the days immediately following. I made some key decisions for my life that has shaped my behavior since and I hope is making permanent changes for the future.
The first decision I made was to accept full responsibility for my actions. No running away, no trying to hide or deflect, no longer being defiant. I clearly stated I was guilty to AWC, to my lawyer, and ultimately to you and this court. I have tried to comply with every directive and instruction I have been given by the authorities.
The second decision I made was to get help. As I mentioned above, I've never understood how my decision making "system" was so flawed as to allow the criminal behavior that has destroyed [m]y life and my family. I had no idea who to call or where to turn for help [A local psychiatrist] referred me to Dr. Mark Whitehill, a Forensic Psychologist, who I have been seeing for treatment almost weekly for the last year. I think the treatment has been helpful and is making positive changes in my life.
So as I read some of the comments that readers of the media accounts of this case have made, I was unsurprised, but saddened, that so many of them serve no purpose other than to cast stones at Dale. My advice to those people is to not sit in judgment. That was the court's job, and it did it by imposing a sentence that was severe, but just. Our job as Dale's fellow human beings is to have compassion for him and to keep him and his family in our thoughts and prayers. That's all. Because the simple fact is that Dale Frantz is still a hero. Even if he no longer has that distinction in the eyes of anyone other than his kids, a hero he remains.
The rest of us don't need to treat him like one. But we do need to treat him with the same dignity that we would hope for ourselves if our own mistakes became public.