When Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for financial fraud, many people felt this was not long enough. There was also a widespread perception that this harsh sentence was an exception to the rule that white collar criminals generally get off easy. In fact, courts have significant leeway and may impose sentences that are surprisingly harsh or lenient.
A recent Ohio fraud case appears to confirm the myth that the court favors white collar criminals. Michael E. Peppel was charged with conspiracy, money laundering and filing fraudulent reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission when he was chief executive of MSCi, a technology company. While investors in the company lost approximately $18 million dollars, Mr. Peppel allegedly pocketed nearly $7 million from illegal stock sales. Ignoring the recommended eight to 10 years, the judge used her discretion and sentenced him to seven days in jail.
A federal appeals court may decide to revise this sentence. The judge defended her decision by referencing the 113 letters she received from colleagues and family members describing his philanthropic activities and the fact that Mr. Peppel had started a new successful business. Letter-writing campaigns have been successful in getting sentences reduced in other investor fraud cases, as well.
The Peppel case raises some interesting questions about the most effective punishment for business people who commit crimes:
Should taxpayers be burdened with the costs of incarcerating non-violent criminals?
Do white collar criminals contribute more to society outside of prison?
How much should charitable activities and community ties influence sentencing decisions?
The benefit of having an experienced attorney on your side is not a myth.
Posted in White Collar Crimes
Tagged fraud, laundering, michael peppel, SEC