Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Debra S. Kelley, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

James F. Hodgson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Kenneth Perkins, Ph.D.


This project was conducted to explain why people engage in white-collar crime with specific attention given to the rationales and motivations by individual participants in a pyramid scheme.

This exploratory case study utilized existing files from a law enforcement investigation as well as newspaper articles that covered the investigation.

Qualitative data in the form of content analysis of these secondary data sources was used to capture themes related to the rationales and motivations behind a person becoming involved in a pyramid scheme. These investigative files and newspaper articles represented statements made by persons who became involved in this emerging form of white-collar crime.

The information gathered served to further ground sociological theory. Specifically, Robert Merton's (1957) strain theory, Gresham Sykes and David Matza's (1957) drift theory and neutralization techniques, Kenneth Tunnell's (1992) neutralization techniques, and Ronald Clarke and Derek Comish's (2000) rational choice perspective on offending were further supported by the themes discovered in the content of the investigative files and newspaper articles.

Particularly significant were the presence of neutralization techniques that an offender utilized to alleviate guilt after the offense was committed as well as neutralization techniques that an offender utilized during the decision process before and during the commission of the act. Evidence of an additional neutralization technique was discovered at work with the participants of the pyramid scheme examined in this case study. The high status of existing participants served to significantly reduce anxieties and fears that accompanied a person handing over $2,000 in a program with questionable legality. Included in the definition of a high status person were law enforcement officers, attorneys, church leaders, business owners, medical professionals, and others.

Further research in this area is needed to further validate the significance of neutralization techniques present during the decision phase of a person choosing whether or not to become involved in the various programs and business opportunities that abound today that are in fact illegal pyramid schemes. With the increased incidents of these pyramid schemes appearing throughout the country and accompanying loss of large amounts of money by a multitude of individuals, this area of white-collar crime deserves additional scientific inquiry.



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