While much of the New York press corps spent last week fixated on how sure-handed Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress clumsily managed to put a bullet through his own leg, there appeared a brief dispatch buried deep in the business sections on how former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers is eyeing a potential pardon.
I saw some interesting parallels in both episodes.
Burress, who’s been given more free rides than a taxi with a broken meter for his petulant behavior over the years, was aided and abetted by both teammates and hospital doctors in an attempt to cover up the incident.
Ebbers, by contrast, used internal and external auditors to cover massive accounting irregularities that resulted in the largest bankruptcy in American business annals. In case some of you may have forgotten, that total came to roughly $11 billion.
I won't rehash here what is inarguably both a painful and costly memory for those affected by the WorldCom implosion. The end result was a 25-year prison term for Ebbers, a five-year sentence for Scott Sullivan, the company's CFO, as well as sentences for a number of accountants complicit in the gargantuan fraud.
Now Ebbers is petitioning for clemency during the final weeks of George W. Bush’s term. According to the Justice Department, Ebbers has sent a petition to commute his quarter-century stay as a guest of the government. Ebbers joins an illustrious class of 2008 petitioners, which includes publisher Conrad Black and former junk bond king Michael Milken.
Meanwhile, the Giants have suspended their star pass catcher for the remainder of the season without pay, a move that effectively signals the end of his career in New York and quite possibly in the National Football League.
I should however point out in Burress' defense, his actions hurt far fewer people than did Ebbers'. While his teammates and Giants fans may be disappointed, it's not like their life savings were sudenly wiped out by Burress' incalculable stupidity.
But here’s what I say: Good riddance to both.
With regard to Ebbers, we certainly don’t need a redux of a Marc Rich-like pardon, not to mention what granting one to someone who orchestrated a mind-numbing fraud would do to the public perception of effective white-collar crime prosecution.
And for Burress, let him attempt to take his bad attitude to the private sector and see how long he remains employed there.
Of course, should he get into trouble again, he can always write to Ebbers for advice on corporate matters. For now, it appears both will have a lot of time on their hands.
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