The Albany White-Collar Stock Scam: Comparable To Murder?

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Crimes are heinous because they cause irreparable damage to people’s lives and terrorize communities, among other factors. In this light, the legal question that judges have pondered for years, if not decades, is the following: To what extent can two seemingly disproportionate and dissimilar cases be considered equally socially disturbing and morally wrong and thus punishable by law? In sentencing convicted fraudster Timothy McGinn to 15 years of prison, Judge David Hurd posited that McGinn’s actions could be compared to those of one of North America’s most notorious life-long criminals, James Bulger, a man who stands trial for no less than 19 counts of murder. In covering the trial, reporter Robert Gavin takes issue with the judge’s position before playing Devil’s Advocate, arguing that McGinn’s actions constitute a serious legal and moral offense that has victimized a number of innocent people. Gavin (2013) writes: “Financial crimes destroy futures, force victims back to work and leave them broke.”

It is important to remember that McGinn and his long-time business partner, Smith, lied to and cheated investors and regulators, stealing money from clients and covering up their tracks by using false accounting entries. Gavin cites the many financial, social and emotional problems that McGinn and Smith’s investors encountered: many lost their life savings, could not help their family members struggling with health issues, and even lost out on a traumatic brain injury lawsuit. As such, I would agree with the author who stipulates that stealing money, in this particular case, can be as egregious and morally apprehensible as murder. McGinn and Smith did more than just steal money—they virtually stole people’s livelihoods, life expectations, and life earnings. In this respect, McGinn and Smith used false pretences, conned hundreds of investors, and knowingly sought to swindle money from hard-working, good-intentioned American citizens. As Perri (2011) justifiably demonstrates, white-collar crimes have gone unpunished for far too long. “White-collar crime is considered a special breed in the criminal court justice because there is a long history of perceived leniency for these criminals; many erroneously believe that white-collar crimes have no victims.” In this respect, McGinn and Smith deserve no empathy—they deserve a harsh sentence.

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Sentencing white-collar criminals to life in prison would send out a loud and clear message to the entire world by discouraging future businessmen, financial brokers, etc. from stealing money from their fellow citizens. Displaying little understanding and imposing harsh sentences to white-collar crimes may well lower crime rates, as was the initial plan when Canada adopted tougher sentences and penalties for fraudsters in 2011. On the other side, sentencing white-collar criminals to shorter sentences may also be an interesting option as criminal courts may offer these offenders a chance to redeem themselves. American prisons would do well to incorporate Norwegian-style rehabilitation programs where offenders and criminals, whether murders, rapists or fraudsters, learn to reinvent themselves and offer their services to the wider community once they are released. Called “restorative justice”, Norway’s model is increasingly becoming an interesting option for criminal courts around the world because of its insistence on repairing harm, rather than simply punishing people for their actions (Sterbenz, 2014). In this regard, McGinn and Smith might benefit from a rehabilitation program where they come to see the error of their ways and come to appreciate a new life that is based on veracity rather than falsehood.

I would argue that a shorter sentence, coupled with rehabilitative programs including psychology and psychotherapy sessions, would help fraudsters like McGinn and Smith to understand to what extent they have hurt, violated and manipulated innocent people. Indeed, fraudster crimes are not murderous crimes—yet both crimes share a singular trait in how they condemn people to miserable lives that are steeped in financial ruin, a psychological sense of loss, and a plethora of other problems. As such, a shorter sentence would be most appropriate, as long as both McGinn and Smith learn from their mistakes.

  • Gavin, R. (2013). Albany white-collar stock scam damages lives too. The Times Union.
  • Perri, F. (2011). White-Collar Crime Punishment: Too Much or Not Enough? Fraud Magazine. http://www.fraud-magazine.com
  • Sterbenz, C. (2014). Why Norway’s prison system is so successful. Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com

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