One of the insults we routinely threw around when I was an incorrigible youngster would be to give someone a dime and instruct them to call all their friends. That was, of course, at a time when 10 cents was all you needed to use a public phone and several decades prior to brand names such as Cingular, Nextel, T-Mobile and Sprint and the ensuing avalanche of cell phones and myriad calling plans. Nevertheless it hammered home the point rather forcefully and the recipient was more often than not reduced to the perfunctory comeback of "Oh yeah?" Harkening back to those cruel days of one-upmanship in insults, I wonder if anyone handed Bernie Ebbers or Richard Scrushy a dime with the same deflating instructions. If they did at one time, things are surely different now. Because despite their past peccadilloes, these two don't seem to have a problem in maintaining a prodigious amount of friendships. Despite Ebbers receiving a prison sentence for 25 years for orchestrating what has morphed into the biggest corporate scandal in history at a mind-boggling $11 billion, actually found some 150 people to write the judge in hopes of securing him a more lenient sentence. Somehow I doubt that many of them were among those who lost their life savings in the implosion. For a number of them, the 25-year free stay courtesy of the government Ebbers received was something between a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back compared to the sentence they could have meted out. Scrushy, likewise, managed to corral a phalanx of supporters despite his being indicted on roughly 80 criminal counts at the health services corporation, HealthSouth. Incredibly, at the end of a five-month trial he was found not guilty. Scrushy, like Ebbers claimed he was the victim of his financial people, making Ebbers and Scrushy liars and criminals at worst, and incompetents at best. Judging by the scope of growth for both WorldCom and HealthSouth under their respective stewardships, I doubt it's very much of the latter. Ditto for recently convicted Dennis Kozlowski, former chief at Tyco International, who was convicted this month of looting the company of more than $150 million. Kozlowski has done one better than Ebbers or Scrushy, in that he has managed, not only to gather supporters, but to find a shill in the form of a columnist for one of New York's tabloids who has described him as a regular guy who has, and I quote, "been hosed." I wonder if Tyco's investors would share in that assessment? Ditto for the reporter had he been an investor. The unfortunate sidebar to this whole scenario is that even after everything, the above-mentioned trio would still need plenty of dimes.

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