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The Allure of Hedonism

with Kevin Cross | April 21, 2011

Crime doesn't pay. But it might, for a season. Christian financial steward Kevin Cross tells the amazing story of how he embezzled nearly $300,000 from his employer, the Broward County sheriff's office, before being caught. Hear how he did it and what happened that finally blew his cover and put him on a path to God.

Crime doesn't pay. But it might, for a season. Christian financial steward Kevin Cross tells the amazing story of how he embezzled nearly $300,000 from his employer, the Broward County sheriff's office, before being caught. Hear how he did it and what happened that finally blew his cover and put him on a path to God.

The Allure of Hedonism

With Kevin Cross
|
April 21, 2011
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  While they were both still young men, Kevin Cross and a friend found themselves in a place where they could make some easy money, and they were hooked.

Kevin:  Here’s the thing with ill-gotten gains.  They don’t profit.  I would spend it.  I kept spending it.  I had an insatiable appetite to use these ill-gotten gains to bring pleasure to myself and see if it was truly satisfying.  What I found out was this: it doesn’t satisfy long term.

Bob:  This is FamilyLifeToday for Thursday, April 21st.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  Kevin Cross joins us today to tell a real-life story of the danger of ill-gotten gains and the power of redemption.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  I was thinking back to the series that you recorded several weeks ago on leaving a legacy, and I remember you talking about how the legacy we leave is really shaped by the little, sometimes seemingly inconsequential choices we make that can turn out to be huge in our lives.

Dennis:  Right.

Bob:  That’s not to say that if we make bad choices those can’t be turned around and redeemed, but a choice you make today can really leave a scar or a mark or a blemish on the legacy of your life.

Dennis:  That’s right, Bob.  There are consequences to our choices as you’re going to hear from our guest on today’s broadcast.  Kevin Cross joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Kevin, welcome to the broadcast.

Kevin:  It’s great to be here.  Thank you.

Dennis:  Kevin is a businessman, and was for almost 20 years.  He works alongside a good friend of ours, Crawford Loritts, who is a pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  He’s been married since 1993, has two children, and has written a book that I am not going to tell you the name of the book, because it gives away the story. 

But what I am going to ask you, Kevin, is one night the police raided a bar where you and a buddy had been fellowshipping, I guess, that evening, right?  And afterwards you walked across the street and started fantasizing about a scheme that you had.  What was the scheme?

Kevin:  We were hatching a plan.  You see, I really, truly was this hedonist, you know, seeking pleasure as a way of life, and now I’ve discovered that seeking God’s pleasure as a way of life, a Christian hedonist, is so much richer.  But at the time I was so self-deceived. 

A friend and I walked across the parking lot and we thought, “You know, our lives are a mess.”  We’re kind of almost 20 years old  – 19 at the time – the world was in front of us, and we were stalled.  We were stuck in this young adulthood.  What could we do to make our mark on this world? 

So this guy and I sat there, and I was working for a very powerful man at the time.  I was just getting finished my fourth year of undergrad in accounting, because I knew the language of business is accounting and I had a scholarship to law school following that.

Bob:  Wow.  So you’re 20 years old, wrapping up an accounting degree, working for a powerful man, and thinking, “Gee, I want to leave my mark.”  I mean it sounds like you’re doing pretty well.

Kevin:  Talk about this deception.  If it’s not a legacy of faith in God, it’s a legacy that’s really – it’s one more, one more.  You keep moving that yardstick and I still wasn’t there, wasn’t satisfied.  You’re right.  If I had just looked at it and said, “Look. In the world’s eyes this is pretty successful.”  But I wasn’t.

Dennis:  You were living in Broward County, Florida.  Everybody knows that county.

Bob:  Home of the hanging chads, right?

Dennis:  Yes.  South Florida.  Fort Lauderdale, going to the Wayne Huizenga School of Business.  So, you’re in a good school and you’re on the right track to be able to do something significant, but . . .

Bob:  You were impatient.

Kevin:  I was absolutely impatient.  I wanted it now.  And this is what I wanted:  I had grown up in a Christian household, too.  I had my ticket to Heaven, however it didn’t really make much of a difference here on this planet, and I needed something more than just, well, eternal life. 

I was deceived by the self-love.  And so as I’m working for the most powerful man, Nick Navarro, this sheriff, famous as Wyatt Earp – this guy taught Al Pacino how to act like a gangster in the movie Scarface, the 1980 horror action flick.

Dennis:  The guy you worked with?

Kevin:  This is the guy I worked for, Nick Navarro.  Powerful man.

Dennis:  Was he a gangster?

Kevin:  Well he was a gun-slinging sheriff and he would do drug-busts, gun in hand, lead the pack.  He was the Clint Eastwood of the real-time sheriffs, and I thought, “Wow, I hit the big league.  I’m working for him and I’m his youngest accountant.”  And here I am, working for him.  I’m in charge of this huge account.  This same guy Chuck Norris calls “Uncle.”  This man is still a Who’s Who, and I’m thinking, “Wow, maybe he’ll notice me.” 

You see, I had this deception of my soul.  I had a hunger.  I had a longing in my soul that was a poverty, but it could only be filled with God’s touch.  It couldn’t be filled with money.  And that’s exactly what happened.

Dennis:  So you’re hatching a scheme, working for the Sheriff of Broward County, Florida.

Kevin:  In the parking lot.  Midnight.

Bob:  And what’s your scheme?

Kevin:  Well, we’re saying, “Hey, look.  What can we do?  Talk about a legacy.  We wanted a legacy of fame and fortune and what this world had to offer.  That’s the legacy we wanted to acquire.  We required it. 

We thought, “Well, I’m in charge of this huge account of stale money.”  It’s almost an oxymoron, stale money, right?  And so here I’m in charge of this account.

Dennis:  Well now, wait.  What’s stale money?

Kevin:  Stale money is money that has been put up as deposits for evictions and for little things that the city or the county does on behalf of its people.  So you give $100 to the Sheriff and they do their thing and you have $13, $5 left.  Well, you’re thinking, “Well, it cost $100, but there’s a little bit left over.”  And so there were hundreds, even thousands of these accounts with this small amount of money in it.

Dennis:  How much total?

Kevin:  Well, there was probably $1 million in there.

Bob:  Oh my goodness.

Kevin:  And back in the 80s that’s a lot of money.  Even today!

Bob:  Even today.  Yeah!  C’mon.

Kevin:  I thought, “Well let me do the right thing.”  And you know, it’s amazing how you plant the seeds of deception.  You plant these bad seeds; they start to sprout.  I thought, “I’ll just take the money and I’ll give it to the people who are the rightful owners.”  And that wasn’t satisfying.  I got kind of reprimanded.  “That’s not what we do, because after ten years it goes to the Sheriff’s office and they get to buy airplanes and stuff.”

Bob:  Oh, so you were going back and trying to find the folks who were owed this money.  They’d paid too much; you’re going to give it back to them.

Kevin:  Right.  Yes.  I’m a boy scout.  But I only did that –

Dennis:  Robin Hood.

Kevin:  Yes.  It began with this innocent thing – “Hey, I want to give the money back so I can be known.  I can be the center of attention.”  And you see, it wasn’t happening fast enough. 

I was the god of my life, and I needed to be worshipped, and if I wasn’t, then I took the next step and the next step was, “Well the Sheriff doesn’t deserve to get this money back.  I’ll invest it.  I’ll show him.  I’ll show him.”  I made $50,000 in one night.  And now let me caveat this story.

Dennis:  Now wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  You made 50 grand in one night, investing the money?

Kevin:  Investing the money.

Dennis:  How’d you get it out of there?

Kevin:  Well, I made checks out through a series of salami slicing.  It’s an intricate embezzlement scheme that takes small bits of information, almost like rounding off the pennies on a check, and the half-cents, rolling them all into one. 

So that little formula I used to get money out of the Sheriff’s bank account – and now it sounds like I’m just glamorizing this deceptiveness.  Well let me tell you, my story is not just a true crime story; it is a redemption story.  So no matter what glamour I show, what God did with my life that was completely broken is amazing, and that’s the story he has for you today.

Dennis:  So you stole several thousand dollars the first time.  How much exactly?

Kevin:  Probably $10,000.  Or $8,000.  And then $15,000.  And then, when I invested in this stock and it made $50,000 in one night, it was like it fed this ego, and I almost thought, “I am the boy wonder.”

Dennis:  So what did you do with the gain?  I mean, did you put it back in the Sheriff’s fund so he could buy a nicer plane?

Kevin:  Well, here was my scheme.  I decided, “Hey, I’ll just take the return on investment.  I’ll give him back the principal.”  Well those seeds started to sprout and I thought, “Well, he doesn’t deserve it.  I deserve it.  I won it.  I am the center of my existence.”  And so I decided, “I’m not going to give it back.”  I gave back some and I took back some. 

I kept going, and here’s the thing with ill-gotten gains.  They don’t profit.  I would spend it.  I kept spending it.  I had an insatiable appetite to use these ill-gotten gains to bring pleasure to myself, to see if it was truly satisfying.  And what I found out was this:  It doesn’t satisfy long term.

Bob:  Now you’re 20, 21 years old at this point?

Kevin:  Well, I’m 19, and throughout the scheme I was 20, almost 21.

Bob:  And you got tens of thousands of dollars rolling your way?

Kevin:  I did.

Bob:  And what are you spending it on?

Kevin:  I was spending it on fast times.  We were going out to eat.  I spent $1,000 at one night at a restaurant, and it was satisfying for a few hours, but that next day, I tell you, the heartache was so bitter, and I had to keep going back to the source, just like sin.

Bob:  I’m thinking of Ecclesiastes chapter 2 where Solomon had all of this money and he’s out trying to fill the hole in his own heart by, “I’ll buy some more vineyards and I’ll buy some this and I’ll buy some that.”  That’s really where you were, trying to fill the hole in your heart by thinking stuff is going to satisfy.

Kevin:  Absolutely.  There are so many people today, too, and maybe they’ll never steal money, but with this whole real estate debacle that we saw in the last several years, where “If I can just acquire a little bit more and flip them, and then get more,“  and then all of a sudden caught up in that frenzy because they know their heart desires something more. 

I desired more than God, and the craziness of that thought is, God is the only one that can truly satisfy.

Bob:  Were you ever thinking, “There will come a point where I’m going to shut this thing down and go back to normal.”

Kevin:  Absolutely.  Every time was my last time.  And then that’s kind of the heartache or the mantra of the embezzler.

Dennis:  Oh, it’s an addiction.

Kevin:  Oh it is.

Dennis:  You were addicted to the roller coaster of not getting caught, the adrenaline and the rush of the game, and then you got to spend it.

Kevin:  Yeah.  And the thing is, you can’t talk about it much.  So that’s hard for me.  I have a big mouth.  So I was going to Christian school – here’s a kid in Christian school who had been raised in a Christian family, and I still didn’t know Jesus Christ. 

Here I’m trying to kind of live this lie, and I’m taking my friends out to night clubs and they’re going, “Wait a second, Kev.  We know you.  You’re a starving student.  There’s no way you can afford to buy us drinks and buy a round of drinks for the bar.  What are you doing?” 

And I finally one night, in a drunken stupor, I told – I spilled my guts, so to speak, to my friends.  And I joke with -- My friends from Christian school were from the Mob.  See, the Mob’s kids all go to Christian schools – that’s my theory – because they want to keep them out of trouble.  So they send them to Christian schools so they won’t turn out like them.  Well, it just so happened that a couple of my friends were Mob kids, and these were the guys who had the fast cars and they had the girls.

Dennis:  Serious Mob kids, gangsters.

Kevin:  Yeah, gangsters.  And of course we joked about it, because we’re high school kids.  We’re going, “Yeah, sure,” but they had the Porsches and the Mercedes and the Corvettes, and we were enamored by these guys, because they had what we thought was really true pleasure of this world.

Dennis:  So did your parents have any sense that you were ripping off the Sheriff’s Department?

Kevin:  None whatsoever.

Dennis:  Did they know you were spending cash -- $1000 dinners, etc.?

Kevin:  Had no idea.  And here’s what we do when we’re sinning:  we ostracize.  I didn’t want to go home, so I spent many nights off, out of my parent’s household.  They’re wondering about me and I’m this prodigal son, and they’re praying for me.  The further I’m getting into this debacle, the further I’m drawing myself away from them.  Talk about the ripple effect; you talked about legacy.  You know what?  My father got me the job.  He introduced me to the Sheriff.

See, while we’re sinning, we don’t realize that the ripple effect is going to hurt other people, and it’s so much of a ripple effect.  There are people listening right now, and they’re ready to compromise.  I get calls and emails daily of folks who have compromised, whether it’s filling out a bogus loan application or whether they’re going to go cheat on their taxes or what have you, and they don’t realize the ripple effect, how it’s going to hurt their family.  It’s not just going to affect them.

Dennis:  So give us an idea of how many months this lasted and how much money you embezzled.

Kevin:  Well, I worked for the Sheriff for about a year-and-a-half.  I moved into action, and I started when I was 19, so I left there about a year-and-a-half later, right before law school, because I got the job my last year of undergrad so that I would have some money so I could go to law school.  But what I tasted on that last year of undergrad was this money that tasted so good, and I knew if I got more and more of it I would finally be satisfied.  So it took me about a year-and-a-half to have the entire plan hatched and moving forward.

Bob:  And how much money over that year-and-a-half did you either siphon out or invest?  How much money are we talking about?

Kevin:  $300,000 I stole from the Sheriff of Broward Country.  And here’s the thing:  If you’re going to be dumb you better be brave, because I was stealing from the wrong guy.  Not only – and that’s from a non-Christian standpoint.

Dennis:  So you never got caught while you were working there.

Kevin:  Never got caught. 

Dennis:  Did you ever come close to getting caught?

Kevin:  Well, when I told my friends in the Mob what I was doing, they said, “OK, look, are you going to cut us in?”  I said, “What do you mean, cut you in?”  They said, “Yeah, cut us in.”  I said, “Well, I’ll buy you a meal or some more drinks.”  And they said, “What?  No. No.”  So a couple few days later, I got a knock at the door from some guys with thick Italian accents from New York, and I thought “What’s goin’ on?”  They said, “Kevin Cross?” and I was so full of myself I said, “Yes, here I am.” 

They said, “Get in your car.” My object of success was this Saab, was this brand-new sparkling Saab.  And they said, “Get in your car,” and they drove, and they desecrated this god of mine.  And they were driving and bumping into stuff and slapping me around, and they said, “You don’t do work on our turf unless you tell us.”  I go, “What do you mean, work on your turf?  I’m just . . .” They said, “We know what you’re doing.  You’re stealing money.  Now we want $5,000 a month and $50,000 tonight.  If you don’t do it, your friend who is helping you do this in the bank, his little sister is being watched right now, and we’re going to kill her.”  At that point I knew I was in over my head.  What I didn’t know was that God was going to use that in a powerful way to shake my life.

Bob:  So what happened?

Kevin:  Well, that night I said, well, we’ve got this elaborate scheme to tell these guys, “Look, the IRS has our money; we can’t give it to you.”  And of course they picked us up in this limo, this stretch limo, and I didn’t recognize any of the guys – there was another guy . . .

Dennis:  So it truly was something out of the gangster movie, then.

Kevin:  Oh, it was.

Dennis:  Stretch limo, Italian accent, threatening lives, cash on the barrelhead now.  I mean, this could be a movie.

Kevin:  Yeah, this reads like a Grisham.

Bob:  Yeah.

Kevin:  A Clancy.  And here I’m thinking, “Wow, I’m way in over my head.  I thought I was just stealing a little bit of money and going to get away with it.”  But now I thought, “Okay, stop it. Stop it.  Got to get out of this mess, and the mess is, these guys want something.  We’ll pacify them and then we’ll move on.  I’ve learned my lesson.  I’ve learned my lesson to not steal on the wrong turf.”  It wasn’t the lesson that I was actually sinning against God.  But that comes later in the story.

And so here I am.  They picked us up.  I showed them that our money had been seized by the IRS, and I developed this scheme – had a letter made, and they ripped up the letter in front of us.  They said, “You know what?  Not only do we want all the money in your pockets right now, but now we want an extra $50,000 and $5,000 a month, or we’re not only going to kill your friend’s little sister, we’re going to kill you guys.” 

So my little scheme couldn’t even get by the Mob.  So we went back and we actually stole more money, because here’s the thing:  I spent all the money that I had stolen up to that point.  I didn’t even have $50,000 to give to these guys.

Bob:  You had stolen $300,000 and you didn’t have $50,000.  Wow.

Kevin:  Squandered it.  Squandered it.  And most people think, “If I’d just won the lottery I’d have money.  I’d give to a great ministry, I’d give to this.”  You know what?  The deception is this:  When you’re not doing things God’s way, you’re not going to do it God’s way. 

So here I am, I’m in this limo, I said, “Okay, we’ll give them the money.”  So the next day I went to the bank and took money out.  I met him in a hotel on a 12th floor someplace, and I had to bring the money and put it in a Wall Street Journal.  It reads right out of a spy novel. 

I brought it up there.  I’m scared for my life.  I gave them the money and they said, “Don’t move or we’ll kill you,” and I thought, “Oh, great.  They’re going to kill me anyway.”  And so, to make a long story even longer, I finally, I got out of there and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to leave this job and I’m going to go to law school and I’ll leave it all behind me, because I know I have a new horizon.  Okay, this is a bad chapter in my life, but I’m going to go forward.”

So here I am in law school and I’m thinking things are going well, and see, these seeds that I had sown before law school – I met some unsavory fellows in law school, and I ended up doing homework for them, which is called moral turpitude.  You’re not allowed to do that, even in law school.  People might laugh.  So I was making $200 a week cash, and I’m thinking,”Okay, God, this is great.  I’m making $200.  I am the boy wonder once again. 

About a year into law school I got a knock at the door.  It was the FBI and the Sheriff’s deputies, and they said, “You have a right to remain silent.”  I’m thinking, “Wait a second, I’m in law school now.  I’m protected.  I have my brethren.  They’ll get me out of this.” 

So they put me in the squad car, took me to the jail, and they said, “We want you to tell your whole story.”  I said, “No, with all due respect,” you know, I’m still cocky, “I need to talk to a lawyer.”  I saw too many crime movies, crime shows, alright?  And so here I am, ready to be booked, and the next time that I would be just faced with this situation where God would get my attention.

Dennis:  You know, I’m not sure what there is to say at the end of that, but I am thinking about a passage in Galatians 6.  It reminds us, “Do not be deceived.  God is not mocked, for whatever one sows that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption.  But the one who sows to the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life.” 

And it goes on to talk about not growing weary in doing good, and I think, frankly, that’s where most of our listeners are right now, is in need of being reminded, don’t be weary about doing good, for in due time you will reap the result of you sowing what is good.  The real lesson however today is, if you’re sowing seeds to the flesh, even in secret, God will not be mocked.  There may be a knock at the door.

Bob:  Well, and obviously the story is not over.  In fact, Kevin, you talk in the book about how God did a dramatic turnaround in your thinking, in your life, in how you handle money, and we’re going to unpack some of that as we continue our conversation this week. 

I want to encourage people to go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to request a copy of Kevin Cross’ book.  It’s called Embezzlement: a True Crime Story.  We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  You can go online to request a copy, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Again the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, and the toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.”  When you get in touch with us ask about the book Embezzlement by Kevin Cross.

Let me also remind you, if you have an iPhone, we have an app for you, a FamilyLife Today iPhone app, where you can hear our program on demand with a few taps on your screen.  I know some of the Droid users have gotten in touch with us and said, “What about us?” and we’re working on that.  The FamilyLife Today website is now a mobile website, and so you can just go to FamilyLifeToday.com and that will bring up an easy-to-navigate website for you as well if you are trying to get in touch with us on your Smartphone.

I want to say thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  You make these kinds of innovations possible through your support.  We want to make it as easy as possible for folks to connect with us, get in touch, get the help and hope they’re looking for.  And of course, your financial support also helps keep us on the air on this local radio station.  So we appreciate your partnership with us and again, just want to say thanks.

In fact, this month we are saying thanks to those of you who can make a donation by sending you a copy of a movie called Magdalena.  This is a DVD that features the story of Jesus told through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, and we’d love to send you a copy of this DVD.  One of the great features is it includes overdubbing in a number of different languages, Spanish and French and Arabic and Portuguese and other languages, so if you know somebody who is a native speaker of one of these languages, get a copy of the DVD and after you’ve watched it, pass it on to them so that they can watch the story of Jesus in their native tongue.

Again, you can request the DVD when you make a donation this month to support FamilyLife Today.  On our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, as you fill out the donation form, be sure to type “MAGDVD” in the key code box on the donation form.  Again, that’s one word, “MAGDVD,” or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone, and ask for the Magdalena DVD, and we’re happy to send it out to you.  We do very much appreciate whatever you’re able to do to help support this ministry.

And we hope that you can be back with us tomorrow.  Kevin Cross is going to join us again, and we’ll hear the rest of his story, a true crime story.  In fact we’ll hear about his time in jail and about God’s work in his life since that time.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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