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Overton: Worrisome crime

BY JON OVERTON | FEBRUARY 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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The enterprising American spirit is our most valuable asset. Whether it’s devising new ways to deceive vulnerable borrowers or defrauding customers, the American financial sector embodies America’s magnificence.

Our forward-thinking government even provides the freedom to experiment with the limits of financial exploitation and deception. Few Wall Street executives went to prison because of the national financial crisis. Sadly, there have been many casualties along the way — one such case is right here at home.

A U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Iowa press release reported Russell Wasendorf, the former owner and chief executive officer of Peregrine Financial in Cedar Falls, was convicted of stealing more than $215 million in customer funds from his company. The press release also stated this great American received a 50-year prison sentence (he’s already 64) and must pay $215 million in restitution to his 13,000 victims.

This is worrisome for freethinking bankers, whose inventive practices are threatened by law. Being pestered by those trivial bylaws about ludicrous notions such as regulations and honest business is manageable, but now the legal system is punishing our esteemed innovators for carrying on the march of progress.

But cases about white-collar crime are relatively absent from the news compared with street crime.
The thought seems to be that few can appreciate the arduous work that goes into devising exploitative schemes and complex derivatives that regulators can’t understand, so the fewer people who know about Wasendorf, the better.

What does Wasendorf’s conviction mean for those who follow in his path, brave enough to disregard all ethics and undermine common decency in the pursuit of individual gain? It may be the dying vestiges of a bygone era when oppressive government persecuted bankers for experimenting or the revitalization of the backward, freedom-quashing idea that little people are as important as big people.


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