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Financial Crime

Congress recently passed another new law that is supposed to outlaw financial crime. Corporate officers will be sent to jail for "cooking the books" as it is called. Among other things it is taking the stockholders money and paying themselves huge bonuses for nonperformance. These guys are even worse than mutual fund managers who do the same thing ? get paid big salaries yet continue to lose your money.

I can remember many years ago (I've got a few years on me) when they started building very fancy prisons with nice cells and tennis courts and nothing but a tiny fence around them. The story was these were being built for government officials who might get caught with their hand in the till and I have no reason to doubt it.

Today we have the new Sarbanes-Oxley Act that makes it a federal crime to commit financial fraud of various kinds. This new piece of legislation is going to be about as effective as the Brady Bill was in eliminating crimes committed with a gun. A crook is a crook is a crook. With or without a gun.

It seems that most of these high-priced executives that were convicted have been going to halfway houses. No bars, no fences, no cells. About 50% of inmates (?) in these "prisons" are those convicted of financial crimes. Most of the others are drug addicts and single moms. They can even get weekend passes to visit their palatial estates. Attorney General Ashcroft wants them to get the maximum sentences is a regular jail, but a group called the Sentencing Commission wants a lenient standard. I don't know who is behind this group, but it seems to be in line with my motto of "follow the money". The more money you steal the shorter the jail time will be.

We recently had Merrill Lynch and other major brokers fined $1.4 billion (yes, that's a B) for their lying to stockholders by giving out false information generated by their "analysts", read salesmen. Not one penny of this is going to the people who were cheated and none of the brokerage company executives will get any jail time.

Almost none of the individual company executives have been ordered to make even partial restitution to stockholders. Unless something is done this lenient policy will go into effect in the first week in January. If you have lost any money in the stock market these past 3 years I think it would be a good idea to let your Congressman know that you want those bums kept in jail until they give back as much as they have stolen or at least until they are as broke as their shareholders.

Many will agree that the punishment should fit the crime. Letting them serve their terms in halfway houses without repayment is not my idea of that. Maybe Washington should hear from you.

Al Thomas

Author of "If It Doesn't Go Up, Don't Buy It!"

Never lose money in the stock market again.


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