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Will Steve Jobs Get the Madoff Treatment?

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So now Steve Jobs is sick and a crook? Apparently, the Securities and Exchange Commission thinks it's a possibility. Bloomberg reports that the SEC is investigating whether investors were misled by Jobs' health disclosures.

Say it ain't so. Not because I own shares of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , but because it would be a profound waste of precious SEC resources.

He's still innocent till proven guilty, right?
Fortune writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt, a longtime Apple watcher, writes that the legal standard for proving Jobs and Apple guilty of wrongdoing is remarkably high. Regulators would have to show that Apple or Jobs (or both) intended to profit from selective disclosure.

Anything's possible, I suppose, but Jobs hardly sounds like someone bent on profiting from his health problems. "Why don't you guys leave me alone -- why is this important?" Jobs told Bloomberg in a phone interview last week, after specious reports surfaced that he might be subject to a liver transplant.

The difference between disclosure and deception
Readers could rightly point out that I've criticized Jobs for poor disclosure. I still believe that investors ought to have enough data to assess the chances of him retiring because of illness.

That we don't yet know more tells us only that Jobs is an intensely private man who doesn't wish to talk about the nature of his condition. I completely understand. But as I've written, Steve is more important to Apple than most other CEOs are to their firms. Certainly more than Dell's (Nasdaq: DELL  ) Michael Dell, IBM's (NYSE: IBM  ) Sam Palmisano, or Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Eric Schmidt. There's no escaping the need for some details -- but only enough for investors to make a fair assessment of risk.

So far, Jobs hasn't complied. That's certainly troubling, but I just can't see how it's a crime.

Dear SEC regulators, please spend your time on real stock market scandals, like the brouhaha over disappeared Florida manager Arthur Nadel, who has apparently made off with as much as $350 million of his clients' money. That's worth investigating. Jobs, not so much.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and Google, and a stock position in IBM, at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy ordered bagels and coffee for lunch today.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (5)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2009, at 6:41 PM, doucme2005 wrote:

    Dribble, this is precisely what the SEC should investigate and what it should have been investigating for years. While the SEC may not be able to bring charges without a showing that he or aapl tried to enrich themselves, that does not mean that individual investors do not have a claim against him or them for misleading statements that caused detriment to them. To the extent that the SEC can find such a showing, then it is fulfilling its role and I'm all for it.

    Now, if they would only go after these CEOs from the financials who have mislead investors for at least a year and who continue to mislead................

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2009, at 9:44 PM, PacificGatePost wrote:



    What if a letter written by Bernie Madoff explaining himself was discovered?



    ….in his own words? Now get the subpoena requests out.

  • Report this Comment On February 26, 2009, at 4:30 PM, steven107 wrote:

    It would be sad if they punished him for this rather than the options backdating scandal that he and 200 --pulled the number from my brain, could be off, my brain is mush--other companies were involved in. As a shareholder in companies, I wanted to see a punishment for that kind of thing, its straight up robbery.

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