Short the Ice Sculptors

With Dennis Kozlowski behind bars, the world may see less excess.

Seth Jayson
Seth Jayson
Sep 19, 2005 at 12:00AM
Other

If you were short the ice sculptors, especially the ones who specialized in vodka-whizzing, art-historical anachronisms designed for parties thrown for tasteless American executives, today might be your day.

If you're just an investor who likes to see justice done and a bit of faith restored in the system, today is also your day. It's the moment a lot of us have been waiting for, the time when ex-Tyco International (NYSE:TYC) CEO Dennis Kozlowski and his finance chief, Mark Swartz, finally reaped the rewards of their ill deeds.

The total? Eight to 25 years, for each con, plus a combined $135 million in restitution. Oh, and $105 million in fines.

Sounds like a lot? It's less than half the reported $600 million that the pair reportedly siphoned out of Tyco. Welcome to America. Enjoy your stay. Here's a tip: If you steal, do it with a pen, not a gun.

It's easy enough to make with the wisecracks now, now that Tyco is no longer a shambles, now that the damage appears to be done. But we all need to remember that plenty of ordinary shareholders paid the price -- quite literally -- for Kozlowski's greed. It's also important that characters like Kozlowski do the time for their rapacity.

Let's be clear. These are the real thugs of American capitalism. Every time someone asks me how on Earth I can invest in stocks when there are people like the Koz out there, I realize how much capital will never find its way to our economy. Crooks like this are to blame.

The takeaway for individual investors is vigilance. I don't want to look like I'm blaming the victims here, because I'm not sure there was much foreshadowing of the Tyco frauds. But in examples of other companies with similar problems, such as Hollinger International (NYSE:HLR), or even MCI (NASDAQ:MCIP) back when it was WorldCom, it was possible to see some of the warning signs. So do your homework. It's no guaranteed way to keep your portfolio fraud-free, but it's better than nothing.

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Seth Jayson thinks Kozlowski looks a little like "The Commish." At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.