Saturday, March 12, 2005

Something smells rotten in the state of... err... federal courts

Ah, fine readers, so little to do, so much time to do it in.

Strike that, reverse it.

(Ok so it's not the exact quote. Sue me. It's not that original in the blogosphere either, apparently.)

Much I should be writing about/want to be writing about, but due to visits from J-Parents and J-Friend L, plus trying to finish up some experimental work (or, frankly, get a good start and middle on some experimental work) that I need to complete in the next month, well... Even I had trouble finding a way to fit more procrastination in there (at least in the form of blogging... until now.)

Let's see, let's see...

First thing on my mind, was thinking about Martha Stewart's release and all... I have to tell you, I was somewhat skeptical of the meme that she was heavily prosecuted because she was a successful and uncompromising businesswomen. I would of course agree that there is huge bias against successful and uncompromising women (in general) (not to mention the generally subtle institutional and not-so-subtle bias), but it just seemed to me... well, it does sound like she may have committed a crime, right? I've never been one for the "by paying attention to problem X we're ignoring problem Y" as a knee-jerk response, but it does happen and such things require examination. So, as I said, with her release, and the many obligatory news stories, it got me thinking... What happened to the real criminals? You know, the ones who didn't have a fairly ambiguous he-said-she-said case of relatively lower importance felonies, at least in comparison to massive investor bilking and fraud?

What'ssay we do an (trumpet fanfare): UNSCIENTIFIC QUICK COMPARISON!:

Ms. Stewart (MS): Indicted originally on "securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy." If convicted on all counts, it appears the maximum penalty is a total of 30 years in jail (plus $1 million fine). Securities fraud charge dropped by the judge because it was, basically, ridiculous (apparently), taking 10 years and the $1 million fine off the table.

MAX SENTENCE: 20 years, $1 million fine
ACTUAL SENTENCE: five months in prison, five months of home confinement, and two years probation, +$30,000 fine
MONEY RIPPED OFF: Apparently, "By selling when she did, the government alleged Stewart avoided losses of $45,673."
Information ripped off from Wikipedia, the free encylcopedia, from the entry Martha Stewart (duh).

Dennis Kozlowski (DK) (and finance chief Mark Swartz (MSW)): On the docket, 1 count securities fraud, 1 count conspiracy, 13 counts grand larceny, and 9 counts falsifying business records (from CNN). If convicted on all counts in the original trial, it appears his maximum jail time may have been 30 years each. (Only?) They previously had a charge of enterprise corruption, which the judge dismissed (it would have carried a maximum sentence of 25 years). (all this from CNN as well). A mistrial was declared last year in April. Trial is set to resume soon.

MAX SENTENCE: 30 years, fine of ??
ACTUAL SENTENCE: TBD; mistrial was declared
MONEY RIPPED OFF: Apparently around $600 mill.

Ok... so the point I was going to make is, MS seems lower on the rung of bad deeds, but has had much more attention. BUT, looking here, it still seems premature to make many conclusions since DK and MSW had a mistrial, the Rigases were convicted (except for Michael Rigas), as was Frank Quattrone, the former Credit Suisse First Boston financier.

As CNN says, "Two of this year's biggest trials -- against Martha Stewart and her former Merrill Lynch stockbroker and against Quattrone, the former Credit Suisse First Boston financier -- did not involve charges of fraud. Instead, prosecutors brought narrow cases centered on easier-to-prove allegations of obstruction of justice." So, perhaps MS, The Rigaii, and FQ were just, as people in bureaucracies love to say, "low-hanging fruit." Ok, ok. Our friends DK, MSW, (former HealthSouth Corporation CEO ) Richard Scrushy, (ex-WorldCom CEO) Bernard Ebbers Jr., and former Enron chiefs Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Richard Causey. For the previous 4, DK, MSW, RS, and BEJ, max's range from 10 years (BEJ; BJ?) to 450 for RS (isn't Scrushy just an automatic nickname? Hey Scrush, the Scroosh, Scrushinomatic, Scrushy... hey, it's late).

So I think two things are at work here. First, I think there really is some sexism going on here (yeah, yeah, I know, I'm late to the party in a way, I should've done the research earlier), as MS did seem especially hunted considering all the other shit flying through the air. And while her public stature made her a nice obvious topic, Kenny-Boy Lay nicely disappeared from our "too-rich-and-too-close-to-the-president-not-to-be-suspicious" radars, didn't it? That made a good story? But, of course, there's no news like celebrity news, and MS is more of a celeb than Kenny (Oh my God! They killed... nah, it's been done.) (That joke'll have to wait at least until it ends "convicted Kenny!"), not to mention this press, well, they're kind of scared of asking the President questions... shh.... Anyway, all this is to say, I'm not sure why all the attention is on MS in any sort of legitimate way... perhaps if a fashionable celeb mail CEO had been charged with something, it would be a better comparison but... the very least, even if all the government working on MS (and Quattrone and the Rigaii) was not sex-related, even institutionally, the press coverage seems to certainly be so. Part of this, like I said, is clearly based on her relative celebrity. But don't you think ripping off $600 million or so and/or being up for 450 years in jail, not to mention crashing Enron into the ground and being part of a wave of scandals affecting accounting, energy, trade, and more should be enough to MAKE you a lasting "celebrity"? I know our media isn't interested in, let's say, pertinent background facts (let alone pertinent foreground facts), not when they're boring or come at the expense of anything that is more salacious, but really. Martha Stewart. Big mogul. Convicted of maybe, kind of having tried to cover up a possibly mistaken attempt to save $45,000 dollars. Frankly, this is pretty much along the lines of Chris Rock's comments on Clinton's sex scandal: "You could've taken this to the PEOPLE'S Court!" Seriously.

Meanwhile, when's the last time you heard about Quattrone, the Rigaii, or our other biggies? (More unscience: Google stats I just made up, in the form of # of hits with Name + "crime"/# of hits with Name.
6,070/106,000 (5.7%)

814/21,200 (3.8%)

BJ (ok, BEJ):
10,500/67,000 (15.7% -- under "Bernie Ebbers";
6,340/150,000=4.2% for "Bernard Ebbers",
9/16=56% for "Bernard Ebbers Jr")

John Rigas:
681/75,000 = 0.9%

Timothy Rigas:
504/4,730 = 10.1% (his relative anonymity doesn't help in this non-scientific method!)

Michael Rigas:
516/6630= 7.8% (ditto)

Kenneth Lay (KL):
Woo-hoo! Not sure this helps my discrimination-against-MS theory, but it's nice to see Kenny Boy's racking up the infamy (in a relatively quiet, non front page news way...) (the %age is about the same for googling ["kenny boy" lay crime]/["kenny boy" lay])

The Srushinator (now makes Julienne fries):
982/91,400= 1.1%
Whew! Maybe the celeb theory has some legs... Kenny Boy is famous through his connection to Bush, so despite the fact that Sruchinator might get 450 years in prison (probably not), he's not generating so much interest.

Jeffrey Skilling:

Richard Causey:
2,340/6,140 = 38% (Damn, that relative anonymity just kills you!)

And, for the closest MS comparison, her co-convictee,
Peter Bacanovic (her stockbroker involved in that whole "ImClone" thing and also convicted with the same sentence):
4,220/18,100 = 23%

363,000/2,300,000 = 15.8%

Ding ding ding ding. And the (somewhat useless) results are in. Quick (bad?) conclusions: Celebrity helps you out, it seems, that is, pre-celebrity. If you get your 15 minutes of fame while being accused of something, eh, not so good on you.

MS comes in at 5th highest percentage out of 12 people (I think... it's later than before when it was already late)... of people over the 10,000 hits range, she's 4th of 11. 25,000, 3rd of 7; 50,000, 2 of 6. Only Kenny Boy has her beat dead to rights... perhaps as it should be.

Ok, this is chuck full of caveats, including that many of these articles could say "MARTHA STEWART, convicted for a fairly minor CRIME..." or maybe there's a different RICHARD CAUSEY who serially committed the CRIME of grand theft auto, or even on the same page "MARTHA STEWART, all sweetness and light, page 8; Local CRIME, which clearly doesn't involve Ms. Stewart, page 9."

Nonetheless, I think the media, if nothing else, is emphasizing her a whole bunches. Of course, a lot of it now is about her comeback, so....

Maybe this shouldn't have been my first post back. Maybe I'm out of practice. Well, it was a novel exercise, you gotta give me that?

Having thoroughly obscured my point, I'll move on.


Alright, not precisely a different topic, but an important one. Thanks for hanging with me.

Actually -- to be continued, in a new post...

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