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The 10 Greediest People of 2008

For obvious reasons, we probably couldn't have picked a better year than 2008 to "honor" our most avaricious.

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Local public schools are now bearing about half the burden that refund has generated. In future years, Ellison's tax discount will cost Portola Valley schools an annual $250,000 or so, the cost of hiring and supplying three teachers.

Ellison, as Oracle's top executive, takes home about that much every hour. This August, just before school started, Oracle pay filings revealed that Ellison collected $84.6 million in fiscal 2008 for his CEO labors. He also cleared another $544 million cashing in on a stash of his Oracle stock options.

2: John Thain

In high-finance circles, they called John Thain " Mr. Fix-It." In 2004, the New York Stock Exchange hired Thain, a rising star at Goldman Sachs, to clean up the mess after NYSE CEO Dick Grasso departed with a scandalous $140 million retirement package. Then, in October 2007, Merrill Lynch asked Thain to pick up the pieces after Merrill's board gave the heave-ho to CEO Stanley O'Neal, who left with $160 million.

Merrill paid fairly dearly to gain Thain's services. Mr. Fix-It came on board with a $15 million signing bonus and a bundle of lush incentives that "would be considered excessive for any industry anywhere," observed CEO pay expert Graef Crystal, "except on that tiny slice of Manhattan called Wall Street."

With subprime-spooked financial giants starting to melt down all around him, Thain went to work wheeling and dealing -- and assuring bystanders that all would be well. In July, he told investors he "felt comfortable with Merrill's capital levels." In August, Thain labeled his firm "well-positioned for the coming years."

Well, maybe not that well-positioned. In September, as Reuters later reported, Merrill would come within moments of "total extinction" -- only to be rescued, an hour before Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, when Bank of America agreed to swallow Merrill whole.

Merrill Lynch, Thain apparently believed, had been fixed, and, early this December, he let it be known that he expected up to $10 million in new bonus for his efforts -- despite Merrill's $12 billion in 2008 losses and a pending layoff of as much as a fifth of the firm's workforce. On top of all that, Merrill's new sugardaddy, Bank of America, was taking $25 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars.

Thain's bonus request quickly became a public relations disaster. By mid-December, Merrill and Thain, under increasing pressure, would unrequest the bonus millions. The good news for Mr. Fix-It? He still may get a $5.2 million " change-of-control payment" for selling Merrill -- and he still has a job.

Unlike average families who lost everything when Merrill's subprime mortgage securities went sour, Thain still has a house, too. A nice one, a 14-bedroom palace north of Manhattan complete with tennis courts, swimming pools, and a fish-filled private lake.

1: Richard Gilman

The CEO of a small factory on Chicago's North Side, by Fortune 500 standards, rates as distinctly small-time. But this particular CEO, Richard Gilman, helped make headlines -- and history -- in 2008. He fully deserves this year's premier place in America's top ten greediest.

Gilman started running Republic Windows and Doors, a modest, four-decade-old plant, in 2006. Layoffs soon followed, and, eventually, only about 240 workers remained from a unionized labor force once over 500 strong.

Those workers, earlier this fall, realized something even more ominous was coming at them. Equipment at the Chicago plant had started vanishing. What the workers didn't know: Republic's "deciders" had set up a new company and bought a nonunion window and door plant in Iowa.

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