Crime and Punishment, E-Business Style

Maybe it’s only a coincidence, but not long after televisions flashed images of Adelphia Communications executives being taken away in handcuffs, the stock market began its most impressive single-day rally in recent memory.

If it’s not coincidental, though, the fact that fraud charges against a minor cable company could have such an impact should give regulators and prosecutors some ideas about how to help turn around the market and the economy.

But just in case it doesn’t, here’s a little help.

Book ‘Em, Dano

If nothing else, corporate criminals should get the white-collar version of the Cops treatment.

Disgruntled shareholders would get a much-needed laugh out of seeing CFOs arrested after a SWAT team busts down the door at the Harvard Club in any given city, or having their cars pulled over to the shoulder on their way back to the leafy suburbs.

The video would help prove that, as a society, we take corporate crime quite seriously. And it’d be darn entertaining to boot. Few things make a person feel better than seeing bad things happen to someone who truly deserves it.

Corporate Torture

But after a while, of course, the public will become immune to this treatment and demand something more. Live broadcast of corporate-criminal torture seems a bit over the top, although some would argue there’s wiggle room in the Constitution.

Still, these executives, if guilty, do have to repay their debts, of which they have accumulated quite a number. They can’t just apologize to shareholders or employees who got fleeced. No, society took it on the chin, so society demands recompense.


Reality TV is all the rage, so why not combine a little economic recovery with some much-needed public catharsis? A camera could follow former Enron executives as they work to pay back the billions lost when that company’s accounting trickery came to light.

Former CEOs could pick up bottles and cans along highways, paint dilapidated buildings and clean up vacant city lots. They could fish garbage out of trout streams and fight forest fires. They could serve as crossing guards and bus drivers. They could teach accounting to high school students.

No, scratch that last one. But they could do all those other things and, for their efforts, they could be paid something south of minimum wage. And every Friday, when their paycheck arrived, they would be forced to hand it over, in its entirety, to former employees or stockholders, who could do with it whatever they choose.

They could even take it to a race track and gamble it away on a 90-to-1 long shot, all while the hard-working CFOs-turned-dishwashers stood by to watch.

Henry Blodget, Pool Boy

The public would grow wary of even that experiment over time, so creativity would be required, and punishment would have to be more carefully crafted to fit the crime. For example, WorldCom executives could be made to visit the homes of former employees and screen their phone calls for telemarketers.

And the Merrill Lynch analysts who at least temporarily wiggled out of the shackles — thanks to a generous settlement — need to learn the value of a buck. What better way than to earn it? Imagine having your morning newspaper delivered or your gutters and pool cleaned by none other than Henry Blodget. Be sure not to tip him, of course.

Creative Punishment

These are just a few random ideas. There must be thousands of ways to punish corporate criminals that are more creative and productive than letting them serve 18 months in a cushy federal prison or allowing them to pay fines that probably amount to the interest on one of their Swiss bank accounts.

For once, though, there is an opportunity for something good to come out of a bad situation. These CEOs and other executives were lauded as creative geniuses. Watching them scoop gutter gunk on live TV should help set that myth to rest once and for all.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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