Why treat pension thieves less harshly than car thieves?
On C-Span recently Sen. Joe Biden of the Senate Judicial Oversight Committee was discussing the problems of employees whose retirement plans had been destroyed in one way or another by one or more of the senior managements of their companies. With the exception of the Enron employees one employee had been urged to sign a form that did not disclose that he had just signed away his rights to sue.
Mr. Biden shocked the group when he advised them that first it is very difficult to prove beyond any doubt that the management decisions that led to the problem were the result of any criminal intent. If the individual plea bargained to offer to confess to a civil penalty that individual could still walk away with the millions and the penalty of a few months.
He really shocked the group when he pointed out that the penalty imposed by the existing law as prescribed by ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act) was one year – 12 months maximum. With time off for good behavior it could well be several months less than that.
However he pointed out that an 18-year-old who steals a car – any car, even a junker that barely makes it across a state line – is guilty of a federal offense and receives an automatic 10-year sentence. Steal any car and drive it across a state line and that’s the sentence in a federal court.
Sen. Biden is working with other members of Congress to get new legislation passed that will provide a penalty that carries some teeth.
Lorenz T. Martensen
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