Goldman Sachs bond trader Fabrice Tourre has plenty to worry about, being accused of fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But his amorous e-mails made public in the case may have him losing even more sleep at night.
E-mail blunders have been around as long as there has been e-mail and examples are endless. Yet we never seem to learn, experts say.
Employees commonly use office e-mails for private — if not extremely personal — purposes. But few will have their missives so exposed as Tourre who, along with Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, is set to testify on Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
The SEC charges that Tourre and Goldman defrauded investors by failing to say that a prominent hedge fund manager bet against a Goldman subprime debt product that he helped design.
"E-mail has the permanence of a letter and casualness of a conversation, and that's a dangerous combination," said Dennis Brown, a legal expert in employment practices at Littler Mendelson in San Jose, California.
"Individuals still have not learned that what they put down in an e-mail is forever, and it can come back and haunt them.
"And it will get worse, not better, because the pace of communications and the use of electronic communications is growing, not shrinking," he said.
Tourre's e-mails show him writing to a "gorgeous and super-smart French girl," telling her he was "ready to hold you in my arms." She responded in similarly affectionate terms.
"There's a certain thrill, often, especially if someone is having an office space crush or an office space fling, in making it dangerous, making it illicit," said Chas Newkey-Burden, the Windsor, England-based author of "Great E-mail Disasters."
"People have always been indiscreet," he added. "We just have more power to mess up at our finger tips."
The Tourre e-mails also show Tourre describing himself amid "all these complex, highly levered, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all the implications of those monstrosities!!" and remarking "poor little subprime borrowers will not last so long!!"
Reminiscent of other cases
The case is reminiscent of golfer Tiger Wood, who texted his extramarital girlfriends, or former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who carried on an affair with a top staffer via text messages, said Shanti Atkins, head of ELT, a San Francisco-based ethics and compliance training firm.
"They get such power, they don't think the rules apply to them," she said. "It's so cliched."
Far less famous people have their share of e-mail woes, from the vice president who accidentally e-mailed employee salaries companywide to the company that mistakenly listed 24,000 e-mail addresses in the "to" box of a message and jammed up countless communications systems, according to a list compiled by Officebroker.com, British office space experts.
Lest there be smirking at another's poor judgment, consider the odds that it could happen to anyone. Roughly 210 billion emails are sent each day, and e-mails are sent in error 42 times a minute, according to a 2006 study by Lycos, which operates a network of websites.
Atkins advises employees to set up separate e-mail accounts and never access them at work, and she advises employers to make their policies clear and update them to include changing technology such as texting and instant messaging.