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Friday
Feb152019

Finding friendship after prison

Dick Cassin, left, and Richard Bistrong discuss the FCPA in NYC in 2016When I was released from prison in December 2013, one of my first digital activities was an on-line search of FCPA reporting in general and the Africa Sting case (where I was the DOJ cooperator) specifically.

During my nearly five years as an undercover cooperator and witness for the Justice Department, I received multiple admonishments from DOJ personnel to stay away from any on-line content pertaining to compliance, the FCPA, and other bribery issues, so my memory and future testimony wouldn't be tainted by what was being reported.

There's no internet access in prison, other than contraband smart phones, so I was excited about deep-diving into the on-line compliance world when I got home, and figured a good place to start was “Richard Bistrong.” During those searches, one of the articles that appeared in prime first-page position was Where Is Richard Bistrong today, written by Dick Cassin and published on the FCPA Blog on October 31, 2012.

My first reaction to that article was to email Dick Cassin to let him know that inmate 30079-016 was now at home. He didn’t respond, and his silence gave me a good appreciation that not everyone was necessarily as excited to hear about my experience as I was to share it, especially given the elements of the Africa Sting.

That was my first and last attempt to contact Dick until early 2015, when to my great surprise the FCPA Blog started following me on twitter, reciprocating my twitter follow of @FCPA about a year prior. And every now and then I'd be even more surprised when @FCPA would retweet some of my content. I thought of that as the first time Dick Cassin and I ever shook hands, even if it was a social media hand shake.

Shortly thereafter,  I figured why not send Dick a LinkedIn request, with a thank you for the twitter connection, (P.S. if you try that now, you won’t succeed, as not doing anything half way, part of Dick’s retirement from the FCPA Blog also meant retiring his LinkedIn profile). Dick accepted.

Then by pure happenstance, in the Spring of 2015, when planning to visit my daughter in Charlottesville, which I knew was HQ for the FCPA Blog, I calculated again, "Why not? Let's see if Dick would like to have coffee while I'm in town." He accepted, and in what was one of the most nervous cup-of-coffee’s in my lifetime (I should have opted for a decaf), a profound personal and professional association would be launched that would impact my life in a way I could have never imagined.

One result which would be familiar to today’s readers is that Dick would ask me (a few weeks after our coffee) if I wanted to submit a guest post to the FCPA Blog, and while that was in no way something I ever thought possible during our coffee, I was extremely honored by his open invitation, so I quickly replied yes.

And during the process of submitting  that first guest post and onwards, Dick Cassin would not only lend a helping hand during the editorial process for my posts, but he would have a major impact on my writing, even outside the FCPA Blog. He recommended a number of books, starting with On Writing Well by William Zinsser, that would forever change how I approached a blog post or even an email, all around what Dick would often remind me as, “Richard, be kind to the reader.”  This would be an early indicator of Dick’s approach to life, in terms of being unconditionally and unselfishly supportive of others. If Dick was in Hollywood, he would aspire to be a “best supporting actor,” and leave the “best actor” to someone else.

Over time, those early posts would lead to Dick asking me to join the team of Contributing Editors at the FCPA Blog; yet another honor I could not have imagined when I read “Where is Richard Bistrong today?” Dick was also gracious enough to lend support and encouragement when I started experimenting and submitting video posts, even with his admonishment to “lose the iPad” when interviewing other compliance leaders. But my interaction with him wasn’t only about the FCPA.

In a number of my posts, I addressed the consequences of my incarceration upon my health. Either before or after one of those posts, Dick asked me if I ever considered becoming a vegan, and once again recommended a few books to read. I figured why not, and didn’t admit that I had no idea what vegan meant. After talking with him about it and reading the books he recommended, around Labor Day 2015 I transitioned to a vegan way of life (it’s more than just a diet), and because of that decision, there have been major gains in my health, including a healthy heart, a reduction in back pain, and just generally feeling great. That once again gets back to Dick’s style -- never pushy but always ready to share information and his own experience. Today we joke about potato breaks (yukons or russets?) and which rice cooker is the best on the market.

And that’s a part of Dick’s approach to life and work that makes this journey so worthwhile --  an occasional self-deprecating joke or just a general comment not to take ourselves too seriously, and never to think of an issue so intensely that we don't hear what others might have to share. That’s the wonderful legacy that Dick has passed to Harry: The FCPA Blog as an open community, where people of good-will, even with different opinions, experiences, and perspectives, can contribute, be they readers, writers, or both, and raise the knowledge base for all of our benefit.

When I first started writing about FCPA issues and my experiences, I faced some serious headwinds. Had it not been for Dick, kicking me up the hill with his encouragement and support, I'm not sure what I would be doing today, other than still eating too much red meat. But my only reluctance about this post is that Dick isn’t going anywhere. He’s now "editor at large," which he describes as "a kind of gadfly" at the FCPA Blog. And I know he's still lending encouragement and support to the new publisher and editor (his son Harry) and to other colleagues and peers alike. And he's still my friend.

So, Dick Cassin, here’s to your well-earned retirement, and a big thank you for that very nervous cup of coffee!

_____

Richard Bistrong is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLCIn 2010 he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to violate the FCPA and served fourteen and a half months at a U.S. federal prison camp. He was named to Compliance Week's list of Top Minds in 2017 and was one of Ethisphere's 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics in 2015. He was named by Thomson Reuters in 2018 as a Top 50 Social Influencer in Risk, Compliance and RegTech.

His award winning compliance training video, Behind the Bribe, produced in cooperation with Mastercard, was released in 2017. To request a demo of the full eleven-minute video or a licensing fee schedule, please click here.