Corporate America's Most Wanted
When it comes to learning from its mistakes, corporate America has fallen off the rehab wagon more times than Robert Downey, Jr.
A quick glance at last week's papers reveals that it's monkey business as usual on Wall Street.
Exhibit A is HealthSouth. Last week, another high-ranking executive at the nation's largest provider of rehabilitative health care services pleaded guilty to routinely cooking the company's books. And this wasn't just happening back in the bad old days when everyone was doing it -- no, these guys were fraudulently inflating earnings well into 2002, even as Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and Tyco were front page news. How's that for clueless?
Next up on the "They Just Don't Get It Tour" are the good folks at Electronic Data Systems (EDS), with proof of just how little has changed when it comes to corporations rewarding failed execs with massive severance packages. After pushing CEO Dick Brown out the cockpit door for overseeing a 50 percent drop in share price since September -- as well as for steering the firm into an SEC investigation -- EDS then handed him a golden parachute worth $37 million. So Brown managed to Dick shareholders even past the bitter end.
Then there was the New York Stock Exchange's jaw-dropping decision -- mercifully stymied by Eliot Spitzer -- to appoint scandal-tainted Citigroup Chairman Sandy Weill to its board to, I kid you not, represent the public. It's a move that makes about as much sense as naming Khalid Abdul Muhammad to the 9/11 Commission.
Clearly corporate America hasn't gotten the message. Unless, of course, it has -- the message that the spotlight is off, the media's focus has moved on to Iraq or the new batch of hotties on "The Bachelor," so there is no need to reform its nefarious ways. We need to change that. And the quickest, most efficient way to do it would be to round up the worst and the slimiest and bring them to justice.
So be on the lookout for Corporate America's Most Wanted:
- Jack Grubman, former head telecom shill at Salomon Smith Barney. Aka "The Bruce Springsteen of telecom."
Wanted for: securities fraud; producing misleading stock analysis; betraying the trust of investors nationwide; and upgrading his rating of AT&T stock in an effort to help get his kids into the Harvard of Manhattan nursery schools. All while pulling in a cool $20 million a year.
Warning: Grubman is armed with stacks of overblown research reports and should be considered extremely dangerous to your financial well-being.
- Ken Lay, former chairman and CEO of Enron. Aka "Kenny Boy," "The poster child for cash-and-carry government," and "One of the Top 25 Wealth Creators of the last quarter century."
Wanted for: cooking the books; cashing in $100 million in Enron stock in the year before the company collapsed, costing 5,000 employees their jobs; urging employees to invest their hard-earned money in Enron stock even after he'd been warned that the company was about to "implode in a wave of accounting scandals;" and overseeing a company that avoided paying any taxes in 4 of its last 5 years by creating 881 offshore subsidiaries.
Hide-outs: Jus' Stuff, the secondhand store his wife opened to unload some of her pricey baubles. Known associates: fellow Enron Gang members Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow, "good friend" George W. Bush, and the dozens of politicians who gladly accepted campaign contributions from Lay and Enron.
Warning: considered dangerous and psychopathically indifferent to the suffering of others. Didn't hesitate to stab thousands of Enron workers and investors in the back or "turn out the lights" on millions of powerless Californians. Approach with extreme caution.
- Sandy Weill, Chairman and CEO of Citigroup. Aka "The King of the Deal," "Wall Street's Highest Paid Executive."
Wanted for: raking in close to $1 billion in stock option gains while overseeing a company that helped Enron defraud shareholders to the tune of $4.8 billion; rigging the IPO market; predatory lending; and falsely boosting the value of a host of tech stocks in an effort to land more business for its investment banking division.
Warning: considered loaded and lethal. According to a secret e-mail uncovered by Eliot Spitzer, Weill won a Citigroup power struggle by getting Jack Grubman to help him "nuke" a former boardroom nemesis. If provoked, might be willing to use such weapons again.
- Richard Cheney. Aka "Dick" and "Mr. Vice President." Former CEO of Halliburton, currently Vice-president of the United States.
Wanted for: serial use of offshore tax shelters; overstating Halliburton revenue by $100 million; doing $73 million worth of post-gulf war business with Saddam Hussein, then denying it; overseeing Halliburton's consistent overbilling of the Pentagon (a habit that led to $2 million in fines); helping to systematically gut decades-worth of environmental protections; and fighting tooth and nail to keep secret the records of his very-energy-industry-friendly energy task force.
Identifying marks include a distinctive sideways smirk, and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (a device the size of an electronic garage door opener) embedded in his chest. Hide-outs: his secure, undisclosed location and GOP fundraisers.
Known Associates: Ken Lay, anyone with a campaign donation for the GOP, and little buddy George W. Bush.
Warning: considered armed to the teeth and extremely dangerous, especially now that the Bush administration has expressed a willingness to use "overwhelming force including nuclear weapons" if rubbed the wrong way. Do not try to apprehend the suspect on your own. Cheney has blithely shrugged off four heart attacks in the past -- what makes you think you can stop him?
- Henry Blodget, disgraced Internet shill. Aka One of New York Magazine's people "who are inventing the world we'll be living in the next millennium."
Wanted for: shameless Internet boosterism; regularly breaching his investment bank's Chinese wall; repeatedly lying through his teeth; and publicly placing Internet turkey Infospace on his "favored 15" list while privately referring to the company as a "piece of junk." All while pocketing $12 million a year.
Warning: not content with earning millions while scrambling the nest eggs of trusting investors with his misleading stock analysis, Blodget now wants to further cash in on his nefarious deeds by penning a tell-all account of his years pushing Internet crap at Merrill Lynch. Avoid this self-serving -- and highly toxic -- claptrap at all costs.
Arianna Huffington is the author of "Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption are Undermining America."