A Criminal Slips through; an Accomplice in a Huge Insurance Scam Gained Easy Access to a Pension Fund's Data. A NEWSWEEK Exclusive

Article excerpt

Byline: Charles Gasparino

Chris O'Keefe, a tech manager at TIAA-CREF, the massive pension fund for teachers and professors, figured it was a no-brainer to hire Sonia Radencovich. Her resume listed the right experience for testing TIAA-CREF's computer databases that held client data like Social Security numbers. And she was a contractor from Tek Systems, a "preferred vendor" to TIAA-CREF. O'Keefe assumed Tek had checked her background. "She seemed like the type of person you could trust," he says.

Radencovich, however, left some key facts off her resume, NEWSWEEK has learned. Just days before she began work at TIAA-CREF last Sept. 27, she was sentenced to four years in prison for her role in a huge financial scam. Under what appears to be her real name--Sonia Howe--she was convicted of helping her friend and lover Martin Frankel bilk more than $200 million from insurance firms. She was to begin her sentence on Jan. 4, a few months after she started at TIAA-CREF, at the same prison that housed Martha Stewart for five months.

But her criminal background went undetected for nearly two months, during which she had access to customer data from a number of colleges, including Harvard, the University of Michigan and Purdue. A co-worker knew about her from the Frankel scam (he's serving 16 years) and notified management. Fund execs say they then discovered she had brought her laptop computer to the office--a violation of policy--and downloaded some data. She was fired in November and is now in prison on charges of racketeering and money laundering.

A TIAA-CREF spokeswoman says that an ongoing "forensic investigation" of Howe's activities shows she had access to data from fewer than 100 people, though Howe "potentially had access" to many more. …