What Is Justice?
Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of Enron, will be sentenced today.
Mr. Skilling, 52, a former Enron chief executive, will stand in federal court here on Monday and receive a sentence that many expect will keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Most legal experts are betting that United States District Judge Simeon T. Lake III will give Mr. Skilling a sentence of at least 25 years for his role in heading a conspiracy to defraud Enron investorsI have to admit, I blanched at this statement. "For the rest of his life"? . . . that's a long time!
But remember the facts of the case. Not only Wall Street, but Enron's own employees were the victims of this fraud -- most of whom saw their entire retirement plans wiped out. Skillings' profits came straight out of his employees pockets, and that's robbery!
White collar crime hasn't been punished this severely in the past. Life sentences are reserved for the drug dealers, purse snatchers, and repeat-offender petty criminals. Of course our punishment system is racist, and it's good to see the tables turned for once.
Still, something bothers me, here. While Skilling takes the heat, Ken Lay got off scot-free, by dying and having his case dismissed. Andrew Fastow, who ratted on the rest, plea-bargained for six years in prison. The NY Times article itself, by giving a lot of space to Skilling's personal life over the last six months, seems to be subtly suggesting the old approach of mercy in the case of white collar crime.
And outrageous as the Enron case really is, how does it compare to the crime of lying the nation into war? If 25 years is suitable punishment for defrauding investors of half a billion dollars, what is the punishment for defrauding a nation of half a trillion? What is the punishment for murder?