As long as people are willing to invest in too-good-to- be-true financial schemes, John W. Shockey will be a busy man.

His title - special assistant to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's director of enforcement and compliance - understates his role. For nearly 20 years, Mr. Shockey has worked behind the scenes to uncover offshore phantom banks, Ponzi schemes, check kiting, fake currency, and other financial scams.

"So long as there are people out there who want to believe in tooth fairies, these kinds of crimes will keep occurring," he said in a recent interview.

At the moment, Mr. Shockey is up to his neck in the flood of fake monetary instruments that militia groups have been cranking out.

Several of these groups, which generally don't recognize established governments and their currencies, have been fleecing investors by selling fictitious instruments promising returns as high as 16%.

"These militias are overworking me," he said in exasperation, removing his glasses and slowly rubbing his eyes.

Mr. Shockey, 73, got his start at the OCC in 1946 as an examiner. His boss, Daniel Stipano, describes him as an institution.

"Not only has he run this operation for the banking agencies, but for the whole government," Mr. Stipano said.

Mr. Shockey shuns the spotlight. He refused to let co-workers throw a party for him this year on his 50th anniversary with the agency, and wouldn't allow American Banker to photograph him for this article.

While Mr. Shockey's job description might conjure up notions of international intrigue and financial paper trails, the crusty OCC veteran insists that his job is far from glamorous.

With a shock of gray hair, a tie with a knot as big as a baseball, and a short-sleeved cotton shirt with an oversized collar, the diminutive Mr. Shockey looks more like a low-rent gumshoe than the Sherlock Holmes of the financial world.

Mr. Shockey said the majority of his sleuthing is done on the phone. In most cases, it involves fielding calls from law enforcement agencies that don't know how to handle complaints of financial fraud.

"I attempt to explain what the scam is all about, because most criminal law enforcement people aren't familiar with financial transactions," Mr. Shockey says. Then he helps dig up information that could help local or federal investigators convict the suspects.

This often involves sifting through the huge amount of evidence that accumulates from financial crime investigations, and then advising prosecutors which information to present in court.

He also helps federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies track money.

"A lot of law enforcement doesn't have any idea how to trace funds, but we do," Mr. Shockey said.

His expertise has made him a man in demand. He has been involved in 133 trials, testified 73 times in district court, and has lectured to the FBI Academy and the American Bankers Association.

When asked whether any of the hundreds of cases he has worked on were particularly sensational, Mr. Shockey replied with characteristic brusqueness:

"No. This is just a job. Occasionally, I may try to gloss up something Dan (Stipano) is interested in, but other than that, no."

When pressed, Mr. Shockey did recall one case that made a distinct impression on him. It is the Republic Overseas Bank case of the mid-1980s, in which 2,500 investors were bilked out of $70 million.

Many of the victims were retirees in the Pacific Northwest who were forced back to work. At least six committed suicide, and others ended up in mental institutions as a result of the scam, Mr. Shockey said.

"Because of what happened to the victims, I do remember that one a little more vividly than some of the others," he said.

The two suspects escaped punishment by fleeing to the Philippines. Because the government there has refused to extradite them, they are "still living in high style, as far as I know," Mr. Shockey said. "This has caused me some personal frustration."

Mr. Shockey runs into a lot of frustration in his job, he said, and most of it is because financial criminals don't get the punishment they deserve.

"The problem with white-collar crime is that we have laws that dictate the punishments, but judges don't attempt to dissuade this type of crime because they let con men off with very light sentences."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.