Larry Ribstein reminds us of something important. There’s a huge gulf between a real crook and the fallen CEOs that the media likes to vilify:
Madoff wasn’t somebody who devoted his life to building a business and then watched it go up in flames (Skilling, Lay). Madoff didn’t fail to account for his pay properly. Madoff wasn’t some underling caught up in the corporate hierarchy who paid dearly for refusing to admit to a crime he believed he did not commit (Olis). Madoff lied to and stole from everybody who trusted him for an entire generation.
Yet it’s likely that Madoff will receive a sentence not strikingly different from some of those just mentioned. It’s too bad Madoff’s guilt has been blurred by all those others who have shared the dock with him.
We know some will disagree, and attempt to draw some kind of moral equivalence between Madoff and these other guys (you can add Dick Fuld to that list, even though he hasn’t been charged with anything). But ultimately that’s either mental sloppiness or a willful desire to ignore complexity and reality — the latter more often. There are real cheats and swindlers in the world. Don’t forget that by lumping them in with a different crowd.