News Columns & Blogs

Greed,thy names are many

Our news outlets are filled weekly with yet another story of money-scamming scoundrels with sticky fingers who “never meant to hurt anybody.” It appears this is how we reap the rewards of excess. No money-grubbing street corner mugger or paper-bag solo bank robber are these culprits. These are folks who contrive big-shot deals assuring their clientele that their money can multiply like bunnies, meanwhile subtracting large amounts from bank accounts and investment bundles.

In some godlike way, their collections emanate from widow’s mite gone wrong to intelligent but gullible believers. It boils down to giving every last penny in order to lose every last penny.

Reading about phony financial advisers or institutions may warm the heart of those living from paycheck to paycheck, but I doubt it. No one really gloats over innocent personal losses or circumstances that make us all vulnerable — especially when the slickster operates what appears to be a legal operation involving millions to billions of dollars.

How easily that rolls off the tongue these days. In fact, most of these scenarios would make terrible movie scripts.

We don’t see the feds barging into the office, slapping on the cuffs and recovering the loot . . . because evidently there isn’t any to recover. At least not where anyone can lay hands on it.

We are all losers when hard-earned dollars disappear from the country’s economy. Yes, I mean economy because squandered, laundered, buried, whatever the disposition there is no philanthropy or opportunity for the well-meaning investor to save or grow in generosity to himself and others.

By now almost everyone is familiar with the Bernie Madoff so-called Ponzi investment scheme and his Fifth Avenue penthouse incarceration. Barron’s did an investigative report in 2001 confirming that “Madoff’s investors rave about his performance — even though they don’t understand how he does it.”

In his own words, “If you invest with me you must never tell anyone.” One investment manager who took over a pool of assets that included investment in a Madoff hedge fund pulled out “when it couldn’t be explained how they were up or down in a particular month!”

Questions arise immediately: Are there sufficient legal requirements in regard to financial credibility and honest reporting? Is there more crime in today’s market or, as many believe, do the modern information advances spotlight crooked operations faster and more accurately?

There seems to be an issue of consumer protection demanding more than a seal of approval.

These are times when the abuse of trust brings a sense of sickening disappointment. Ask er or merchant, and he or she will tell us: “Don’t buy a watch from the guy on the street who flips open a jacket lined with Rolexes.”

Yes, that’s laughable small stuff but it frames the question: With whom can we afford to do business? During these last few weeks, another hedge scheme materialized in our own backyard, preying on friends, close relatives and even a not-for-profit organization.

There’s an old cliché: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. We should be grateful that they weren’t pooling their ill-gotten gains for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Pat Glass, a retired Manatee County commissioner, can be reached c/o Bradenton Herald Metro Desk, 102 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton 34205.