Sentences For White-Collar Criminals: Too Harsh Or Too Lenient?

By Amanda C. Haury | May 29, 2012 AAA
Sentences For White-Collar Criminals: Too Harsh Or Too Lenient?

Reports of white-collar crime seem to be running rampant in the news as of late. Allegations of fraud, unethical business deals, identity theft and more are commonly reported on national news outlets. A hotly debated topic is whether the punishment related to white-collar crimes is fair. Some criminals receive lifetimes in prison, while others serve 30 years or less. Here is a look at several instances of white-collar crime and the punishment that was ordered.
Chalana McFarland
A prime example of white-collar crime is the case of Chalana McFarland. McFarland was a real estate attorney who was accused of committing acts of fraud, identity theft, mortgage scams, money laundering and other equally devastating crimes. McFarland left lenders with $20 million in defaulted loans by using inflated property values and real estate flipping deals. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison and ordered to pay $12 million in restitution for her crimes. Was McFarland's sentence fair? When you take into consideration the amount of damage caused by McFarland's crimes and the fact that she could have received a life sentence, a 30-year sentence doesn't seem so bad.

Thomas Petters
Another excellent example that affected a broad number of people is the case of Thomas Petters. Petters was a business mogul who was accused and convicted of money laundering and fraud in a ponzi scheme that cost investors over $3.8 billion of their hard-earned money. Petters was sentenced to a 50-year prison term, although the prosecutors recommended a sentence of 335 years. When you consider the extent of the crimes and how many people were affected by Petters' actions, a 50-year term seems appropriate.

Sholam Weiss
A case that received a lot of attention for its particularly harsh punishment is that of Sholam Weiss. Weiss was convicted of fraud for an insurance scam that toppled the National Heritage Life Insurance company. Weiss was convicted of 78 counts of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud and was sentenced to 845 years in prison. While 845 years seems extreme, Weiss' actions took down an insurance company and defrauded 25,000 investors. Sadly, the punishment seems just when you consider how many lives he altered by his fraudulent actions.

Bernie Madoff
On Dec. 10, 2008 it was discovered that an entire branch of Madoff's securities firm, Madoff Securities, was a massive ponzi scheme when an investor called his sons questioning about several million-dollar bonuses that were being handed out early. The next day, Madoff was arrested after his sons turned him in to the feds. On Mar. 12, 2009, Madoff pled guilty to 11 felony counts ranging from securities fraud to investment adviser fraud. The full extent of the financial damage he created is not known, but it is believed that he lost $50 billion worth of money from investors. Celebrity investors Madoff scammed included Steven Speilberg and Kevin Bacon. Madoff is currently serving a 150-year sentence in a federal correctional complex in Butner, N.C.

The Bottom Line
Although white-collar crimes do not tend to be of a violent nature, they most certainly have their victims. The victims are often financially affected to a great degree, and some victims have their life savings taken. When leniency is applied to crimes such as fraud, identity theft and the like, the only winner is the culprit. White-collar crimes should be punished with stern judgment, just as any other crime would be. Although no blood is shed with white-collar crime, it adversely affects the lives and futures of the victims.

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