James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Justice in the American Oligarchy

On March 4, my local excuse for a daily newspaper, the Star Tribune, ran a five-paragraph Associated Press story on the sentencing of Marc Weisberg, former communications executive for Qwest Communications, the Denver-based outfit that runs the major phone company in this part of the country.

It's the sort of thing you see once every week or two, if you're looking for such items.

Weisberg pleaded guilty to wire fraud. His actual crime was getting Quest vendors to give him and family members stock in their companies in exchange for the privilege of selling their goods and services to Quest. The court determined that he made $2.9 million off the scam between 1999 and 2001.

According to the Denver Business Journal, other former Quest officers also are guilty of various thefts and are busily cutting deals with prosecutors who want to nail former company CEO Joe Nacchio for really big fraud. (Ask any phone company retiree about Nacchio, the guy responsible for screwing thousands of them out of much of their retirement money.)

As usual in such cases, what is shocking – though no longer surprising – is the sentence.

Weisberg was fined $250,000 and given 60 days of house arrest.

Assume that he had, let's say, $150,000 in legal costs. That means he still came out $2.5 million ahead on the deal.

Yep. The guy gets to keep most of the money he stole.

Of course, he lost a very lucrative job, but the odds are long that he'll soon be back making big bucks, working for some corporation, or right-wing political organization, or as a consultant, or he'll be giving speeches at $25,000 a shot. That's how it almost always works for crooks who wear $7,000 suits and steal big.

For contrast, third degree burglary – no one home, small time theft – carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, plus a $20,000 fine in Minnesota, which is a bit easier on offenders than some other states. Of course, no first-time offender is going to jail for 10 years, but probation for several years could be expected, and some young offenders might get sent off to a “boot camp” for three months or more. An older offender without a known criminal background might be assigned to a number of weeks of public service and to make restitution.

A three-time minor crook might go to prison for life under “three strikes” laws in some states.

If someone will let me have $2.5 million, I'll willingly pay more than Weisberg. I'll stay home for four or even five months, although my home almost certainly isn't as roomy or luxurious as his. I might even share some of the loot with a friend of mine who lost a hunk of his retirement fund to the machinations of Quest's crooked execs.