Did you hear what Richard Strong got? Looks like he'll be paying a fine and won't be working in the securities industry anytime soon (OK, anytime in this life). But, come on, guys: Am I the only one unmoved by the "book" thrown at this gazillionaire founder of Strong Capital?
Unless you own a Strong fund, you probably know Strong Capital as one of Eliot Spitzer's original Fab Four. Strong, along with Janus
Don't get me wrong, I'd balk at the $60 million in penalties and restitution Strong has agreed to pay. And were I majority owner of Strong Capital, I'd hate to see my company fork over $80 million more in fines and penalties, much less be forced to cut its fees. Then again, I don't have nearly $1 billion. Then again (again) if I did, I wouldn't trade in and out of my own funds, even as I chastised my investors for so much as considering such a thing. At least, I don't think I would.
Draconian as the sanctions against Strong and his company have played in the media, there are those who wonder whether Spitzer might not have lost his appetite the higher he's climbed the corporate (dare I say social?) strata. Personally, I give the attorney general a 10 for originality and initiative, but I wonder myself. I mean, settlement? Public apology (I swear it's part of the settlement)? Whatever happened to Club Fed?
(That final question, for the record, was rhetorical. A distinction probably not lost on those who hold Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
To be fair, Spitzer insists that, in this particular probe, criminal charges are reserved for late traders (which is patently illegal) and not market timers (which is just bad form). That may or may not be the case and may or may not make sense. Either way, statements like this from Stephen Cutler, SEC director of enforcement, aren't exactly helping:
Strong Capital Management and its founder, Richard Strong, betrayed the mutual fund investors they were duty-bound to protect. In Richard Strong's case, his personal trades were a betrayal of the highest order, warranting the stiffest possible civil sanctions.
Civil sanctions? Call me a purist, but if we are going to hyper-regulate such things, grandstand, launch investigations, and chase down villains, can't we at least do this: Can't we please make a "betrayal of the highest order" against the law?
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Paul Elliott, Fool editor of Motley Fool Champion Funds, owns shares of ImClone.