It used to be that rich crooks, with friends in high places, were seldom sent to prison.
Defended by the best lawyers that money could buy, they tended to win in court much more often than the average person.
And if they were sent to the big house, at least in the United States, they were apt to get a presidential pardon.
Fortunately, it appears lately that the tide may be beginning to turn.
The rich likely still do get preferential treatment from the justice system, but they may no longer be getting a completely free ride.
Canadian theatre moguls Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb were sentenced to seven and six years in prison, respectively, this week for defrauding investors.
So they must be sitting behind bars at the moment, right?
Well, not quite. They are free on bail pending an appeal of their convictions for cooking their firm’s books.
A poor person would likely remain behind bars awaiting such an appeal, but at least Drabinsky and Gottlieb were convicted. Countless Canadians thought their wealth and fame would spare them that.
Speaking of the famous and wealthy, America’s court system recently sent US$50-billion swindler Bernard Madoff to a federal prison to begin serving a 150-year sentence.
And, if you haven’t already forgotten, financial cheat Conrad Black is still in an American crowbar hotel, serving a 78-month sentence, although his lawyers are doing their best to get him out so that he can be free while he awaits his appeal.
The United States has ushered in a new era of jailing white-collar criminals that ought to be pursued here in Canada.
If we were as tough on corporate crime here, Drabinsky and Gottlieb likely would have received much longer sentences, and they probably wouldn’t be out on bail.
Their sorts of crime hurt all Canadians.
As the judge who sentenced them this week noted, such dishonesty fuels public cynicism and destroys faith in the stock market.
Amazingly, according to Wikipedia, the term “white-collar crime” only dates back to 1939. But the phenomenon surely existed long before that.
Greed, regrettably, is something that is quintessentially human.
We will never utterly defeat white-collar crime, but we just might be able to keep it somewhat contained by throwing a few of the crooked big wigs in prison every now and then.
If we don’t do that, then how can we tell the petty criminal that he ought to do the time, if he has committed the crime?
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.