I try not to be too cynical, and I try not to take too much pleasure in the misfortune of others. So, as an investor, it's tough to know how to feel about yesterday's news that Lea Fastow, wife of Enron's chief thief Andrew Fastow, has finally been punished for her role in the billion-dollar swindle.
On one hand, it's good to see some justice be served. On the other hand, as Bill Mann recently pointed out, by way of amazement at the inequity of punishment in certain cases, there are plenty of other fish we need to see fried.
Mrs. Fastow's plea bargain process has been nearly as complex as some of Enron's famous, off-the-books farces. She originally faced a litany of fraud charges similar to those that earned her husband a 10-year trip to the clink, but in the end, the Feds got her the way they got Al Capone: tax crimes. She admitted only to misrepresenting the real source of the piles of shareholders' money that ended up in her family's pockets.
If you think that sounds like a thin charge for someone who -- as an Enron assistant treasurer with an MBA -- must surely have known exactly the scale of her crimes, you're not alone. US District Judge David Hittner criticized federal prosecutors for going so light on Mrs. Fastow, saying that the plea bargain, which dropped six felony counts for a single misdemeanor, "might be seen as a blatant manipulation of the federal justice system."
He then ignored the prosecutors' lenient sentencing request, and ordered Mrs. Fastow to serve one year. The jail term means separating her from her children, a key sticking point in the previous, failed plea bargains. It's tough to applaud something like that.
But on the other hand, the Fastows' crimes have inflicted incalculable human damage. How many moms and dads out there are forced to work extra shifts because they lost their jobs in the wake of the energy firm's collapse? How many retirement-age grandparents are back on the job because they were unable to cash out their 401k plans while the Fastows and the Lays cashed in and tried to cover their tracks?
When I think all those people, and all the hard work and dreams that were flushed away by Enron's white-collar crooks, I'm convinced that the Fastow family got off easy.
Talk Current Events with other Fools.