Formerly an FBI and fraud investigator, Winding River resident hasn’t stopped working

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By Sarah Wilson, Reporter

From chasing bank robbers to poring over Swiss bank records to find fraud, Joe Koletar’s career has spanned more than 40 years, numerous countries and countless adventures.

After graduating college, he served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Special Security Group. From there, he was recruited into the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he got his start investigating bank robberies.

Koletar spent five years in bank robbery investigations and moved on to investigate aircraft hijackings, terrorism and sexual exploitation of children. He also led a bomb squad and served as a congressional liaison.

“I enjoyed it, and I was good at it. I like dealing with people,” he said recently of his job with the FBI. “I enjoyed figuring out why things happened and how. I was trying to bring order to disorder.”

Koletar recalled having to walk over dead bodies in a bank to try and calm down the survivors, letting them know it was going to be OK. He enjoyed bringing calm and order to a chaotic situation, he said.

His home in the Winding River community is filled with memorabilia from his days as a special agent and senior executive with the bureau, including photos with various presidents, newspaper accounts of arrests of major crime figures and an American flag that flew over the White House during the 50th anniversary of the FBI.

At the time of his retirement, 25 years after joining the bureau, Koletar was the national program manager for a $2.5 billion criminal investigations budget, computer operations, the Witness Protection Program and information operations, criminal undercover operations, surveillance and aviation operations, the Strategic Intelligence Operations Center and White House Background Investigations.

Along the way, he also earned his master of public administration degree and a doctorate of public administration from the University of Southern California.

In 1994, soon after retirement, Koletar received a phone call from a job recruiter who set him up on interviews with the nation’s top accounting firms in Manhattan.

From 1994-2006, he worked for Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche as principal fraud investigator.

“It’s fun. It’s like a puzzle. I like to know what happened, how it happened and who did it.”

This second career took Koletar to Russia, Korea, China and Brazil, where he conducted and managed investigations in retail, manufacturing, media, hospitality, healthcare, energy, banking, financial services, insurance, transportation and nonprofits.

For more than two years, he ran an investigation of a Swiss bank that involved the review of more than 16,000 boxes of corporate records dating back to the 1920s.

It was a little different from the crime busting he had done in the past.

“In the private sector, a lot of times, they don’t want to press criminal charges. Sometimes, they sue in civil court, but usually, they just dismiss the employee. They don’t want the bad publicity.”

Koletar also came to realize many of the employers didn’t realize what was going on right under their noses.

“It took us two to four weeks to figure out what was going on,” he recalled.

Koletar found many business people had “fallen in love” with their assumptions, such as assuming employees would not defraud them, and needed to organize their information more and rely less on “data” to solve problems.

“We’re data rich and information poor,” he said.

“I try to guide them through, helping them figure out what’s going on.”

Although the work was rewarding, Koletar eventually got tired of the daily rat race in New York.

In 2005, he and his wife, Martha, a North Carolina native, moved to Winding River Plantation after vacationing in the South Brunswick Islands for several years.

“It’s a much more relaxed way of life,” he said. “I worked in Manhattan with all the noise, traffic and crowds. I liked it when I was younger, but now, it’s a pain. I like a more relaxed life.”

But he hasn’t traded in his briefcase for a golf bag just yet. Koletar continues to work as a business consultant and speaker, using his knowledge as an investigator to educate businesses on how to avoid fraud and better manage risk.

He has also put his expertise in print, authoring three books targeted to businesses. (See sidebar about his latest published work.)

“I didn’t want to play golf and sit all day. Work keeps your mind active. I find it fun.”