The Top 5 Financial Crimes of the 21st Century

The Top 5 Financial Crimes of the 21st Century

At a time when violent crime rates are reaching historic lows, a different kind of criminal was getting filthy rich by fleecing others in America.

Instead of ski masks, crowbars, and guns, these scofflaws typically wear a suit and tie to work and carry a nice leather valise. The fact that they appear refined and are often well educated allows these crooks access to ungodly sums of money.

And by the time they’re finally discovered, most have either made or lost fortunes of other people’s money. With that in mind, here is our list of the five biggest financial felons of the century.

1. Bernie Madoff

Amount: $65 Billion

Crime: For nearly twenty years, the former stock broker, investment adviser, and financier operated a Ponzi scheme that became the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. By lying to investors and fabricating gains, Madoff defrauded thousands of investors, including famous people and charities, out of billions of dollars. He later pled guilty to 11 counts of federal felonies and was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

2. Bernie Ebbers

Amount: $11 billion

Crime: When telecommunications giant Worldcom filed for bankruptcy in 2002, the move made national headlines as the largest bankruptcy filing ever. But when it was discovered that CEO Bernard Ebbers, a former gym teacher, had used accounting fraud to trick investors and debt to fund company acquisitions, his crimes made global news. Recently named the 10th most corrupt CEO of all time by Time magazine, he is currently serving a 25-year prison term in Louisiana.

3. Robert Allen Stanford

Amount: $7 billion

Crime: With dual citizenship in Antigua and the United States, Allen was able to sell billions of dollars of certificates of deposit (CDs) through his Antigua-based bank, Stanford International Bank. But when investors learned that he had deceived them about the nature of their investments and how they were managed, U.S. authorities launched a thorough investigation. Allen was convicted of fraud and is currently serving a 110-year prison sentence in Florida.

4. Tom Petters

Amount: $3.65 billion

Crime: A talented salesman, Petters hatched a scheme to purchase consumer electronic goods at discount prices and resell them to big-box stores like BJ’s and Costco. The only problem was that he never bought or sold said goods, but simply pocketed the money instead. Convinced he was running a Ponzi scheme, the U.S. government investigated the claims of aggrieved investors and charged Petters with wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering. He is currently serving a 50-year federal sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary.

5. Kenneth Lay

Amount: $1 billion-plus

Crime: CEO of the now defunct energy giant Enron, known to its rivals as the “Crooked E,” Kenneth Lay conspired with the company’s accounting firm, Arthur Anderson, to hid the Enron’s failing financial health from shareholders. The result? The company filed for bankruptcy in late 2001 and shareholders lost more than $1 billion! (seems low) Lay was subsequently found guilty of four counts of bank fraud and six counts of fraud and conspiracy. The disgraced former executive died of a heart attack while awaiting sentencing.

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