Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why do we treat White Collar Criminals different ? Let's put Madoff in jail..

A few years ago, I took a white collar crime course at UNH, a precursor to my current (half-hearted) pursuit of a graduate degree.

I was struck not so much by how fraud is perpetrated- human nature being what it is, that's not so hard to understand. What amazes me is how our response is different for different types of crime.

Let's take the crazy man in the Philadelphia movie theatre who shot a man because his family was making too much noise during 'The Curious Case of benjamin Button'. He's been charged with every crime they could think of, which is not a bad thing. He took out a gun and shot a man because his children were talking over Brad Pitt. Story here No one is going say, 'Hey, that guy that walked into the theatre with a gun in his pants ? Let's make sure we don't set bail so high he can't get released.'

However, Bernard Madoff perpetrated a 50 BILLION dollar fraud. Charties have collapsed, one of his seed investors has committed suicide, and each day, another tale of woe is heard from individuals or organisations that have lost everything from their retirement money to 95 million dollars of their endowment (NYU).

Madoff is still living in his apartment and apparently walking around the streets of NYC, free on 10 million dollars bail. Why ?

I understand the legal system, and the importance of having a legal process. Bail is an important part of that process. But in cases of white collar crime it shocks me that we allow the defendant to use funds which are alleged to be ill-gotten and often are a direct result of the fraud they are charged with to affect their release from jail pending a hearing, as well as paying lawyers. It is true that assets are often seized as soon as charges are filed, but in this case Madoff has already confessed to committing the fraud, yet is using his own real estate as collateral for the release.

Given that he has indicated his guilt, why is he free on bond ? He should be sitting a jail somewhere, not walking around NYC with three of his homes as collateral. It's a given that those homes will eventually be sold to try and recover pennies or ha'-pennies on the dollar he stole from trusting investors.

That's right. This guy is a thief. He's like the guy that breaks into your house when you aren't home. Except instead of stealing your flat-screen TV and helping himself to your leftovers he steals your house, your 401K, your car, admits to it all, and then gets to walk around NYC while you try to get from one soul-crushing second to the next without killing yourself.

The common burglar probably doesn't make bail. The 50 BN (US) thief, makes bail and goes back to his swank apartment.

I'm not saying a judge should use his own prerogative to override the law. But I do think bail in white-collar cases needs to be reassessed.

Or I have a better idea. Let's stop calling it white-collar crime. Let's just call it crime ! And let's start treat people that steal 50 billion dollars worse than people that steal a car. I think Madoff's crime ought to viewed by our legal system as far worse than any other non-violent crime.

He should be in jail, suffering. Somewhere cold, damn, with lousy (but edible and adequately nutritious) food. He deserves no better. After all, he's not an accused thief. He's a confessed thief.

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