The curious case of Bill Grizack came to an end today as North Carolina Superior Court Judge John O. Craig sentenced the now-former executive strategist and agency partner to serve 57 to 81 months in state prison for defrauding McKinney and The Variable (formerly known as Pave Advertising).
As readers who have followed this story will know, in March Grizack pled guilty to three class C felonies related to charges of obtaining money/property by false pretenses and attempting to do so.
“This is a case about lies and deception that fueled an upper class lifestyle,” said state prosecutor W. Scott Harkey in a Forsyth County court today, and Judge Craig seemed impressed by Grizack’s work, stating, “There are certain politicians in this country who could probably take notes from this man.”
The story began in 2010 when Pave Advertising of Winston-Salem hired Grizack as a consultant. The shop eventually made him a full-time employee, and he developed a data-based software product that he called Brand Forensics. Pave later renamed itself The Variable and used this software as a key selling point for potential clients.
Today in court, Grizack’s defense attorney Bernard Desrosiers said:
“He created a software program that, from the victim’s own mouth, was ‘revolutionary.’ He started getting legitimate contracts from clients, but the two he wanted most he couldn’t get.”
Grizack wanted to be a partner, but in order to avoid paying a six-figure fee the agency principals required him to provide $500,000 in new revenue. The Variable president Keith Vest read a statement in court explaining what happened next by way of “fake contacts, fake email addresses, fake phone numbers, and fake documents” with which the defendant “impersonated officers at these companies”:
“Grizack was not out to please anybody. He is a con man … addicted to lying.
He did not just spontaneously lie; he schemed. He caused our company to suffer extended financial losses and McKinney to do the same. [He caused] unimaginable emotional turmoil at work and at home … he almost destroyed a company. He strategically used acts of kindness to build our trust, and like any con man his tactics were just tactics.”
As part of his plea agreement, Grizack agreed to pay $135,000 to The Variable and $100,000 to McKinney Ventures as restitution for his crimes. But Vest acknowledged in his statement that neither agency is likely to ever see any of that money, adding, “All of this happened to us 3 years ago. We have recovered and thrived without his cancer within our walls.”
Harkey claimed in court today that the total losses for the two agencies amounted to approximately $4 million; he was also the party who suggested that the Coca-Cola and Brown-Forman contracts that Grizack faked would have been worth $269 million, according to an earlier report in The Winston-Salem Journal.
After firing Grizack in 2013, The Variable partnered with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to gradually build its case against him. Their reasons for doing so, according to Vest’s statement:
“We don’t want to see Grizack do this to other companies. He conned the company he worked for before us; he conned us and McKinney; the company he moved to after ours was able to uncover his deceit before it went too far.”
In his opening statement, Harkey said, “Right after his scheme was discovered by executives at Pave and McKinney, he went to [Colorado’s Egg Strategy] and did the exact same thing” before an unnamed party contacted that shop and let them know that Grizack’s $14 million McDonald’s contract was fake. A spokesperson for Egg Strategy declined to comment for this story, stating that the agency does not discuss current or former employees.
As we documented in the past, Grizack continued to get hired by top agencies even after he was fired by all three of the shops mentioned above. In 2014, he moved to California to work at Dailey Advertising as chief strategy officer for almost a year, and at the time of his guilty plea in March he was simultaneously employed or contracted by Interbrand, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco.
We’ve received quite a bit of information regarding this story over the past three and a half months. One anecdote that sticks out to us is the claim that the very name Grizack has become a verb of sorts in the agency world.
In explaining the reasoning behind the sentence, Judge Craig said that the fact that Grizack’s fraud led dozens of people to lose their jobs was first and foremost in his mind. He also cited an unnamed “rare genetic disorder that could be fatal and most likely will greatly shorten his lifespan” as a reason not to give the defendant a longer sentence, adding, “When he gets out, he will always have that hanging over his head in the event that he is able to get employment.” (Craig revealed during his closing statement that the doctor who diagnosed said disorder just happened to be one of his hallmates during their freshman year at Davidson University.)
He then added:
“Mr. Grizack, I don’t know what to say to you, sir. It was a very ingenious scheme and I was amazed at its complexity and its criminal ingenuity. It was a con game that was highly complex and highly believable. I have to say that in so many instances involving schemes such as this, the defendant is able to play on his ability to convince people.”
Craig also implied that the agencies in question may bear a bit of the blame in this case: “There is often a greed factor on the part of the victims … If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said, comparing the story to that of the goose that laid the golden eggs and adding, “I hope you will take this as a hard-earned lesson.”
Grizack then stood and took his opportunity to apologize to the court, his former employers and his wife and children while shaking his head profusely. “From my heart, I am truly, truly sorry,” he said before officers placed him in handcuffs and led him away.
Earlier in the hearings, Desrosier summed up Grizack’s crimes as such: “He thought he could get away with it. He didn’t.”
A McKinney spokesperson declined to comment on the case after the sentencing. Before leaving the court today, Vest promised to provide an official statement to both Adweek and The Winston-Salem Journal.
Ed. note: I am currently working on an Adweek feature story on Grizack. If you worked with him, participated in any of his agency projects, or have more information about his case, please contact me at email@example.com or call me at 917-258-0966. Any subsequent conversations may occur on condition of anonymity, though on the record statements would of course be preferred.