Robert Tillman, Ph.D.
Combining Disciplines, Professor Alerts Students to Crime’s “Broader Dimensions”
Robert Tillman, Ph.D., has devoted his academic and professional career to studying, in his words, “crimes of greed, not need." As coordinator of the graduate program in criminology and justice at St. John’s University, the professor of sociology and anthropology helps guide students into professions that combat crime, including the white-collar misconduct he has spent a lifetime researching.
"St. John’s is very career-oriented—and New York is a hub of law enforcement activity,” Tillman said. “I tell prospective students that even if we were located in Iowa, St. John’s would have a great program, but, as with real estate, it's all about location." He encourages his students to obtain internships with regional law enforcement agencies, often facilitating their placement.
According to Tillman, most criminology and justice students embark upon “some type of investigative work." A select few join the FBI, while many others enter state and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security or local police departments. Many go on to law school.
A Phenomenon with Common Threads
“The traditional 'cops and robbers' are still out there,” Tillman said. “But we also strive to address broader dimensions of criminology, whether it's white-collar crime or human trafficking."
The author and coauthor of varied articles and books on white-collar crime, Tillman made his initial foray into these areas as a postdoctoral research fellow at the California Department of Justice, where he studied Medicaid fraud. “Doctors were stealing a lot of money and nothing was happening to them,” he recalled. “They would walk into sentencing with their checkbooks and pay a fine. They received no jail time and their licenses were not revoked."
The experience led him down a path that would shape his academic career. Tillman has received grants to study other forms of white-collar crime, and his research is often topical. In the early 1990s, for example, he studied the savings and loan crisis, one of the largest financial scandals in US history; in the early 2000s, he investigated corporate "pump-and-dump" schemes, which boost the price of a stock through recommendations based on false or misleading statements.
Today, Tillman focuses on the bigger picture regarding financial crime. "I work on discovering how all these cases are linked,” he said. “Regulatory agencies fine companies hundreds of millions of dollars, but the companies are worth billions. They make settlements, rather than incurring fines, which can be written off on their taxes."
Ultimately, Tillman observed, the phenomenon of white-collar crime is the “reverse” of street crime. “Street crime is generally the result of some local deprivation,” he said. “White-collar crimes are crimes of greed, not need. The line between the two has become blurred, and the graduate program at St. John's addresses that.”