What is the most bizarre thing a coworker has done to get fired?
He played a joke that ended up in his termination, federal charges, and deportation from the United States.
This was the explosive .COM era in the late 1990s where anyone with an idea based in technology could get millions of dollars in venture capital. We worked for a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) internet provider that had gone global while still private. It was the dream job as we were all part of the small group that founded the company and grew it through leaps and bounds on venture capital with the ultimate goal of going public through an Initial Public Offering (IPO). We worked 80 hours a week for a song because the promise of stock grants and penny options were piled on us. We did amazing things and we had the numbers.
As we approached the IPO we were in the SEC mandated quiet period. We were warned not to talk to anyone about anything concerning the business, cash on hand, or impending IPO. The backers were all lined up and we were just waiting for the announcement of when our IPO would go through.
Week by week and day by day we all waited for the announcement because it would instantly make many of us millionaires. I was in a position of material knowledge on the company, so I had more insight on when we would actually IPO and was more relaxed about the situation.
I came in on a Tuesday morning and the e-mail was waiting for me. It was a copy of a AP Newswire report announcing that we had gone public and we were the largest valued IPO in history. It quoted a stock price nearly double the strike price and a projection that we’d go further by the end of the day. The article included a link to a very authentic-looking news website, but it was one I had never heard of before. I quickly searched Altavista (Google wasn’t a thing yet) and couldn’t find any other report of our public offering nor could I get the stock ticker to come up. I hear others in the office cheering as they log on and look a their e-mail, but my brow was furrowed. I wasn’t on the inner circle for info on our IPO, but I was close enough to know we were still about a month away from IPO.
I drop by my VP’s office to see what his take is. He was in a fervor. He said not to say or do anything and to tell my team to make sure they don’t call or forward the e-mail to anyone. The news was a fake. I gathered my team to break the bad news and make sure that if anyone had forwarded the e-mail we followed up and stopped the spread of the misinformation.
I go to get a cup of coffee and run into Jeff. He’s there with a huge smirk on his face. I ask him what’s up and he responded that he just thought this was funny as heck to see everyone in the company get so wound up about the IPO. I asked him why he thought it was so funny as he had a lot to gain when the IPO went. My employee number was 31 and had gotten $.05 options which stood to make me about $2.5mm at strike price. He had been there longer and his employee number was in the low 20s which put him in the $.01 or $.02 options in addition to the $.05 bucket. I looked at him puzzled and then he burst out that it was him.
Jeff had thought it would be funny to set up a fake news site and forward in a fake announcement about the IPO. I felt sick at that moment because I knew this was much more serious than the joke he thought it was. I told him that he had two choices, he either went to the VP and came clean about the joke right now or he better hide his tracks so well that no one ever finds out.
It was too late. This was an internet tech company after all. He had registered the domain under a fake name and there was no public information to trace it back to him, but he made the fatal mistake of actually sending the e-mail from his office at work. They traced the IP address back to his cubicle and the rest was history.
He was terminated with cause and his H1B Visa was cancelled. He had 14 days to leave the United States, but the authorities would suck up all of that time. In the end he was charged with a number of crimes and held. He was told that he had the option to be deported with a never return order or stay jailed and stand trial. He opted for the deportation and will never step foot in the United States again. If he ever does sneak back in, the charges still stand against him and if he does he would be prosecuted.
I did talk to him a few times after he was deported and he lost everything. He wasn’t even allowed to return to his apartment. It was seized by the FBI to gather evidence and after the fact he was evicted and all of his stuff disposed of as he couldn’t come back to the United States. His car was towed and sold at auction also.
A pretty spectacular way to screw yourself out of millions of dollars.
The funny fact is Jeff was right, when we did finally IPO, we were the largest IPO on record to date and we didn’t just double the strike price, we more than tripled it by close on day 1. Our record stood until RedHat eclipsed us with their IPO on August 11th, 1999.