Handcuffs And Smoking Guns: The Criminal Elements Of Wall Street

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Criminals are found throughout the corporate world and plenty of "white collar," or corporate, criminals are filling pretty posh minimum-security jail cells. With that in mind, let's look at the "criminal" lingo used in the dark alleys around Wall Street.

Perp Walk

The perp walk has become an increasingly common and popular media phenomenon. While wearing handcuffs, a suspect is arrested in full view of the news media and paraded about by the police. The media are often "tipped off" before the arrest, so they can set up their cameras and get the suspect with his or her jacket over the face, or sometimes proudly displaying handcuffs. Although the perp walk was once reserved for notoriously violent and inhumane crimes, it has been extended to CEOs and businessmen accused of crimes.

Golden Handcuffs

As many of us know from our cops and robbers days, handcuffs are used for restraining someone. In the corporate world, companies will offer valuable employees very favorable incentives to retain their loyalty. These incentives usually come as stock options in the company and can only be collected if the employee remains with the company for a specified time period (vesting). So, the incentives act like handcuffs for the employee, albeit golden handcuffs.

Godfather Offer

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." -Don Corleone (Marlon Brando), the Godfather.

In the cinematic masterpiece "The Godfather," Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) explains his father's simple way of making offers: "Sign or lose you life." It's not exactly ethical business, but it is extremely effective. In the corporate realm, a godfather offer is an offer made by a bidding company that is so generous it cannot be refused. If the target company does refuse, shareholders may initiate a lawsuit against management for cutting them out of good profits (which is every bit as effective as the Godfather's threats).

Smoking Gun

The expression "smoking gun" comes from the early 1900s, when the legal system began to solidify into a standard model. The burden of proof was placed on prosecutors and police rather than the defendant (suspect), meaning that some of the previous strong-arm tactics by police had to go. Naturally, the police and prosecutors were quite displeased, lamenting that they'd "have to catch criminals with the smoking gun [as in just fired] still in their hands." Fortunately, the legal system withstood the strain of having to prove people were guilty of a crime. Since then, a smoking gun has grown to represent any irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing. In the corporate world, smoking guns can include everything from office memos with compromising statements to complex accounting paper trails. Corporate criminals aren't usually stupid enough to leave smoking guns lying around, but it does happen.

Forensic Accounting

With the growing interest in forensic investigation, it was only a matter of time until "investigative" accounting was renamed "forensic" accounting. Much like its gritty crime-scene cousin, forensic accounting tries to piece together a crime's circumstances by reviewing physical evidence. In the case of accounting, the physical evidence is found in the numbers. Forensic accountants search for the elusive smoking gun in the company's financial statements. Even manipulators of numbers leave a palpable "fingerprint" behind when they change things.

Loan Sharking

Pure and simple, loan sharking is the illegal practice whereby a lender charges a super high interest rate on a loan. The level of interest legally permitted to be charged may vary, and it generally does not exceed 60%, but loan sharks typically lend out money at rates higher than these limits. Where does this tie into the corporate world? The Consumer Federation of America calls some pay day loans legal loan sharking. The Federation states that through payday loan companies, cash-strapped consumers run the risk of becoming trapped in repeat borrowing due to triple-digit interest rates, unaffordable repayment terms, and coercive tactics made possible by check-holding. These places get away with it by disguising interest payments as fees. If these fees were counted as interest, the rates would be enormous.

Whistle-Blower

Before radio communication made it possible for police to call into a central dispatch, foot patrols prowled the streets armed with billy clubs and whistles. When these patrols came upon a crime or a disturbance they couldn't handle alone, they'd blow their whistle and any policemen within hearing distance would rush over to help. A whistle-blower in the corporate echelons works much the same way. Whistle-blowers are employees inside a corporation who know about the company's unscrupulous activities and then go to the public with that knowledge. This public admission brings on the media and usually legal repercussions for the company. Unfortunately, whistle-blowers also suffer, as they find it very hard to find jobs afterward despite being legally protected.

Corporate Espionage and Spies

Many of us have enjoyed watching Sean Connery shoot up bad guys with vaguely German accents, but espionage has changed a lot. The new spies are more likely to be wearing glasses and a "Star Wars Forever" T-shirt than a three-piece suit. At first glance, having your office memos read by an outsider seems harmless, but corporate spies sift through piles of junk for the one gem that can help their employer sink your company. This can be as simple as stealing R&D information, or it can get as dastardly as finding out job bids and undercutting them to the customer. Companies have to remain vigilant, because not all bad guys have steel jaws or pseudo-futuristic uniforms: most look just like you or me. Cyber-hacking and cyber spying are also a form of corporate espionage tactics. The problem of corporate espionage has become big enough for companies to employ counter-espionage agencies.

Conclusion

Well, that's all for our exciting trip down the thug-infested alleys of Wall Street. We hope you've found this informative and entertaining.



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