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August 13, 2002

Treat Them Like The Crooks They Are

David 'Kip' Koontz

Company names like Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom and Tyco, and, of course, Martha Stewart, are now as well known for the wrongs they have done as for the good they have done in the business world.

Their dirty dealings and possible insider trading actions have made a shambles of many people's lives through lost jobs, many, many retirement accounts that are gone, and 401K's nationwide that are depleted as the stock market has tanked and left a very ugly taste in the mouths of many Americans about corporate America.

Especially since those in Washington, who are being called on to fix the excesses, may indeed have been guilty of insider trading themselves.

President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney may indeed still have to answer questions about their fortunately-timed stock sales that left them in the black as the companies whose stock they sold went into the red.

A recent report showed these astonishing figures when it comes to the abuses of corporate captains and executives who sold for a profit while their companies were sinking. Listed first is the company followed by the amount the leaders pocketed just as stock prices were about to devalue. The following are the top ten:

1. Qwest Communications: $2.26 billion sold. 2. Broadcom: $2.08 billion sold. 3. AOL Time Warner: $1.79 billion sold. 4. Gateway: $1.27 billion sold. 5. Ariba: $1.24 billion sold. 6. JDS Uniphase: $1.15 billion sold. 7. i2 Technologies: $1.03 billion sold. 8. Sun Microsystems: $1.03 billion sold. 9. Enron: $994 million sold. 10. Global Crossing: $951 million sold.

Sad part about it as we now know, those who sold their stock, spent it on art and antiquities for their private residences, which, of course, they get to keep in a corporate bankruptcy as they made it "personal property" though it was bought through untoward measures.

It is simply sickening to see these fat cats survive in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed when their employees are out of work and have lost their retirement benefits, health benefits and so on.

On a news show recently a man, who would best be described as a "bubba," made the most poignant statement about the aftermath of the WorldCom disaster where 15,000 people were put out of work.

He said something to the effect: "These guys are worse than a bank robber because they have put people out of work, caused the stock market to tumble, caused people to lose their life savings, yet they get to keep the loot they stole because they turned their company money into personal assets as soon as they could."

He continued: "Yet a bank robber would get significant jail time while these folks will most likely go to a prison where they play golf and there is a white line drawn on the macadam and they are simply told "don't cross it."

He questioned, rightfully, why corporate robbers will be treated differently when, in effect, they have more significantly damaged our economy and people 's lives then the petty bank robber does?

Take these company leaders and compare them to Aaron Feuerstein, owner of Malden Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

In December 1995, the then 75-year-old man's company burned to the ground.

Three thousand employees watched in horror as their jobs seemingly went up in smoke.

Yet, showing a morality and ethics unknown by these new fangled corporate captains, Mr. Feuerstein shocked everyone in the business world.

He first announced he would continue to pay his employees full salaries for a month.

He then announced he would do it a second month.

Most encouraged him to take the $300 million he received from the insurance company, retire and leave.

He shocked everyone more by saying he would rebuild in Lawrence instead of moving overseas or down south where many other textile companies had moved for cheaper labor.

He continued to pay his employee salaries to the tune of $23 million dollars until the plant re-opened.

He did it because he said his "faith dictates that one is fair to everyone - especially those in his employ as it was the right thing to do."

Now, unfortunately, his company has filed for Chapter 11 protection.

Asked recently why he didn't do as the Enron's and Global Crossing's have done and take the money he has and run, he answered along the lines: "It sickens me to see how badly corporate America's ethics have become and that he could not look in a mirror if he did those things to his employees and to people as a whole."

He said it is his company, and if anyone should go broke first, it is him.

Having heard of the company's misfortune, people from across the country have been prompted to send him money.

Mr. Fuerestein has said he has received checks ranging from $25 to hundreds of dollars, which he sent back to the senders. But the money was then sent to Malden Mills.

Now the company is saving the $10,000+ thus far collected to put into a trust for underprivileged children in Lawrence.

How can we not be enraged to see the abuses by so many corporate leaders when we have evidence that businesses can be run with a sense of ethics and responsibility to those who work for them?

Some of us are in agreement with the "bubba" mentioned earlier and think these corporate plunderers need to be treated harshly and as the true criminals they are.

Can we get Alcatraz to re-open? Unfortunately, with the way things are going, it would be full and overcrowded as soon as we started shipping these folks there.

After that, we should simply leave them to their own devices and throw away the key.

At least with Martha Stewart there, they'd have nicely embroidered bed linens - just not with fabric from Malden Mills.

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