Years ago, I happened upon a publication that listed a series of studies — some of which were, incredibly, funded by the government — the nature of which were so absurd, many bordered on an outtake from a Monty Python movie.

It included a report underwritten by a $100,000 government grant on why prisoners want to escape from jail, and another that claimed to weigh the effects of bovine belching on the ozone layer.

Admittedly, it made great light reading and I found it useful on more than one occasion during my single period as a quaint conversation starter. There were a hundred others, but regaling you with their respective details, albeit entertaining, would command more far space than I’m allotted here.

Add to this dubious list of investigations a recent probe, by the New York Stock Exchange, in whether former chairman Richard Grasso was overcompensated to the tune of $150 million during an eight-year stretch from 1995 to 2003.

The report from the Big Board which was spearheded by a former prosecutor, included interviews with some 60 Wall Street executives. Surprising exactly no one, it determined that Grasso was overpaid by oh, $43 million to $50 million according to reports, and also concluded that the former chairman received roughly $100 million in deferred compensation that could be deemed, well, “inappropriate.”

Startling. Cow gas, anyone?

Grasso resigned from the NYSE in September following a wave of heated criticism and public outcry over his lucrative pay.

No doubt.

Now, self-appointed Wall Street watchdog, and most likely the next governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who for now functions as that state’s attorney general, is mulling whether to prompt Grasso to return part of his compensation package. After all as I understand the structure and authority of Spitzer’s office, it helps regulate the NYSE.

Spitzer, apparently shocked at the report, recently had a sit-down with interim NYSE chair John Reed to discuss possible collection procedures.

Good luck.

Grasso is not a large man in physical stature, but I’m thinking you’d need several hulking competitors from the “World’s Strongest Man,” competition to wrest that money from him.

My unsolicited advice is to forget about spending time and money on investigations that have painfully obvious conclusions and focus on future hurdles.

Was Grasso overcompensated? Of course he was. Did the NYSE directors who approved his pay package fumble their fiduciary responsibilities? Did the Cubs blow the National League Championship? Hell, Grasso’s secretary and limousine driver made $250k and $125K, respectively.

The NYSE has an unenviable 2004 laundry list to fill, not the least of which is more aggressive regulation of its traders, a shortcoming that came to light in a suit brought about last year by the California Public Employees' Retirement System. It must also find a permanent and high-profile candidate to serve as permanent chair.

Here’s hoping they don’t commission a study on whether people on Wall Street want to make money.

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