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Rigas Nailed, Osama Still Loose

Mises Daily: Wednesday, July 31, 2002 by

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President Bush had to get tough on 78-year-old John Rigas--John Rigas of no prior criminal record but one prior triple-bypass surgery. Rigas, former CEO of Adelphia Communications, is charged, along with his two sons, with using corporate funds for personal reasons and misleading investors and lenders by misstating the financial condition of his company.  

Through his attorney, Rigas denies the charges and states that money borrowed from the company went directly into purchases of Adelphia stock, which helped maintain a healthy stock price.  

It is too early to tell whether the Rigases are guilty or not guilty of these charges, but we can question the timing, motivation, and propriety of arresting John Rigas rather than allowing him to surrender at the courthouse. Rigas, though a one-time billionaire, was an easy target. He is a guy from Palookaville (Coudersport, PA) with no apparent political connections.  

He is the owner of the Buffalo Sabres, but such trivialities do not register on Beltway radar. Buffalo may have produced two presidents and caused a third to take office, but it is flyover country now. Bush, tainted by his own questionable corporate maneuverings and plagued by plunging poll numbers and stock markets, needed a goat, and even an old goat would do.  

If Bush can't find Osama--the third most recognizable face on the planet--well dammit, at least he and his boys from the Post Office can find the most recognizable face in Coudersport, PA. (pop. 2650).

But in Manhattan, and at 6:00 a.m.? Hey, maybe Rigas and his sons were plotting an escape. The fact that they told the Post Office patrol where they were and offered to surrender may all have been a ruse.  

Rigas, all of five feet two inches, could have slugged one cop while the two sons grabbed the guns, and they all could have fled to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport to . . . where? You can’t hide anymore in this world--unless your name is Osama, of course. The police can email your photo to every law enforcement agency in the world in five minutes.

But Rigas still had to be arrested at dawn. It's right there in the Justice Department's regulations. I read them today:

". . . for a defendant with no prior record who is not a flight risk and is not charged with crimes of violence, a summons (appearance ticket) is to be issued, particularly if the defendant through counsel offers to voluntarily appear for arraignment. However, if there is corporate crime hysteria and a falling stock market and a tainted president with falling poll numbers whose war on terrorism has stalled out, then, by all means, grab the perp at dawn and make sure the press is tipped off in advance so we can taint the jury pool with a nice visual."

Don't give me any of that leftist malarkey about how we have to treat white-collar criminals the same as street criminals. As usual, the left is caught in a glaring contradiction. They oppose the unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police, except when it comes to corporate executives.  

Here are the differences between violent criminals and businessmen accused of financial crimes. Pursuit of violent criminals necessarily involves precautions to protect the arresting officers and to prevent escape, as the thugs, unlike white-collar defendants, usually have no valuable ties to the community.  

Second, there is an obvious difference between a person engaged in productive, law-abiding activities but who veers into illegality, and, for example, a burglar, whose "job" is exclusively and entirely devoted to making other people’s lives miserable. If we treat white-collar defendants differently from violent criminals--at least in matters of arrest and pretrial release--it is because they are different.

I am just an old flyover-country lawyer, but what I am hearing around these parts is that Rigas was made the scapegoat because all the other guys are wired. Whether that is true or not, the show put on in Manhattan the other day was unnecessary, in fact or in law. Let John Rigas answer in court his actions, if he is convicted, but making a 78-year-old, ex-combat infantryman in World War II the scapegoat for a failing administration and failing economy leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Now, if they had only summoned 76-year-old Manhattanite Alan Greenspan for massive counterfeiting, that would be different. But perhaps stealing one-third of the value of our money is no big deal, if you’re wired.


James Ostrowski practices law in Buffalo, N.Y. See his Mises.org Articles Archive and send him MAIL. See Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. on The Reign of Terror II.