Top Corporate Execs Slide Away
From Economic Mess

Mondo Washington By James Ridgeway

Last week President Bush "got tough" with alleged corporate crooks-with some of them, anyway. The papers carried photos of John Rigas and his son Timothy being carted off on charges of looting their company, Adelphia. There were also pics of WorldCom bigs Scott Sullivan and David F. Myers in custody. Sullivan was released on a $10 million bond, while Myers was sprung for $2 million, pocket change for guys like them.

Rumors are that the president is having a hissy fit over the unending series of scandals, even considering taking away guilty executives' vacation homes and yachts, just for good measure. Yet of the 10 large corporations that have recently crashed, taking thousands of innocent investors with them, eight still have the responsible players walking the streets, a little poorer perhaps, but in no danger of being arrested.

Meanwhile, the full story of the rape and pillage of America is still unfolding. Last week the Financial Times ran the results of a survey revealing that top execs in the 25 biggest recent corporate collapses had built up fortunes from 1999 through 2001 totaling $3.3 billion. Richest of the rich: Ken Lay of Enron with $247 million and Gary Winnick of Global Crossing with $512 million.

Lay-along with his buds in the executive suite-famously ran Enron into the ground. He ripped off tens of thousands of electricity consumers in California, lying to them, manipulating the so-called free market while hiding the true nature of the corporate business from its stockholders and the government. In cold blood, he ruined the livelihood of thousands of its employees, screwing them out of any sort of "retirement." Surely Lay and the other chieftains at Enron ought to be charged with criminal malfeasance of some sort-fraud, conspiracy under the racketeering laws, obstruction of justice, or perjury, just for starters. Lay happens to be a major Bush family supporter, having financed both presidents' political conquests and acted as the frat brat's confidant on energy policy. Natch, he doesn't get charged with anything.

Beyond the political will to hold people like Lay accountable, we need a mechanism for going after the companies themselves, paving the way for placing them in receivership so they could be managed under public supervision until their acts were cleaned up. There is nothing unusual in this notion. Crooked unions go through it all the time. Corporations should get the same treatment. At the very least, firms with shoddy accounting and other dubious practices should be denied government business. For Enron, federal subsidies and contracts were the lifeblood that let the corrupt operation flourish.


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