A 12-step program for becoming a white-collar criminal

Did Bernard Madoff just wake up one day and decide to steal $50 billion from his investors? Probably not. Other figures in the growing pantheon of white-collar criminals -- names like Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco), Jeffrey Skilling (Enron, pictured) and Bernard Ebbers (WorldCom) -- most likely didn't decide to start their evil schemes overnight, either. No, the path from good to bad likely involved progressive steps -- 12 to be exact, if you believe new research published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics.

After examining court records and drawing on their expertise in clinical psychology, the Canadian researchers who wrote the report say the road from riches to ruin is awfully similar for many infamous corporate crooks. Step one involves acquiring a position of power, followed by step two, in which the perpetrator becomes fully aware of that power. For instance, it was Ebbers taking the helm of the company that became the notoriously failed telecom WorldCom in 1985 that ultimately set into motion his $11 billion accounting scam. "You end up sliding down the slope one step at a time," says one of the study's authors Ruth McKay, a professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business in Ontario, Canada.