(Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, talks with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke before the start of a House hearing on AIG.)
I’m not a negative person so it’s hard for me to think in that way, but facts are facts. I sit here day after day shaking my head about the financial crimes perpetrated by some of our nation’s finest minds and most educated individuals. It makes me worry about the moral health of our nation.
I find this new wave of white collar crimes grounded in greed and dishonesty more disturbing. I believe it reflects a moral decay in some of our nation’s most accomplished individuals. How could any AIG executive accept part of the $165 million in retention bonuses? Their company failed. They failed. A Big Fat F. We all know when you fail, you are not rewarded. We learned that in grade school Most of the executives receiving these ridiculous bonuses were from the same AIG unit that caused some of the insurance giant’s most severe problems. Accepting that bonus money is clearly stealing. Theft. A ripoff.
AIG is nothing compared to Merrill Lynch. Executives there rushed out $3.6 billion in bonuses. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo discovered Merrill paid four executives a combined $121 million and distributed bonuses of $1 million or more to 696 employees. The firm lost $15 billion in the fourth quarter. Again, I call accepting or giving bonuses at a company that is failing theft. What would you call it? Kudos to New York Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried for ordering the list of Merrill bonus earners be disclosed to the taxpayers. After all, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch. Bank of America has been allocated $45 billion in federal bailout funds and the Treasury has guaranteed to protect it from potentially billions of dollars in losses from investments Lynch made in real estate loans.
A joke in Washington goes like this: "What's the difference between Enron and Fannie Mae? Answer: The guys at Enron have been convicted.”
I covered the Enron story from the beginning. We called the Enron guys' work voodoo accounting. They were put on trial, called liars and thieves, and sent to prison. Founder & CEO Ken Lay died before he went to the federal pen. Former CEO Jeff Skilling was sentenced to 24 years and recently lost his appeal. The damage Enron did is small compared to the Americans suffering now. This 2009 gang of white collar thieves is largely getting off except for the worst of the worst, Bernie Madoff.
I find Skilling more like a school girl when compared to this new gang of still unnamed executives--the people who ran their companies into the ground with complicated deals and shady investments and then stole taxpayer money. I am sure if federal prosecutors spend as much time investigating all of these huge companies as we did Enron, we could send a bunch of these modern suits to prison.