You may remember Mr. Kozlowski from the original trial. A video of his lavish party on an Italian island, allegedly paid for with company funds, was last year's scandal du jour...
For a couple weeks it was all over the news, so most people saw at least a snippet of this cinematic atrocity, including a giddy, red-faced Kozlowski dancing amid ice sculptures and costumed models posing as ancient Roman courtiers.
As I watched this public embarrassment over and over again, it made me realize that my biggest problem with Kozlowski wasn't the alleged corruption, but the lack of taste. The kind of buffoonery associated with this brand of corporate corruption is just distasteful and alien to me. While watching these high-level company officers cavorting on the shareholder's dime, it occurred to me that maybe tackiness is at the heart of corporate corruption.
Well, tackiness was certainly true in Kozlowski's case. But what about someone like Bernie Ebbers, the former WorldCom chairman who will be doing 25 years of hard time for his role in the largest corporate fraud in American history? By many accounts, Ebbers was a classy but modest country boy from Jackson, Miss., who also happened to leave thousands of investors holding the bag. What about former executives at Computer Associates, who have taken responsibility for their roles in the accounting scandal that has rocked that company?
CA is located in Islandia, N.Y., a hard-working, middle class village on Long Island where the most ostentatious flair is a water fountain in front of the local strip mall. There are no allegations of wild ice sculptures and Roman-themed parties in the CA case.
Plain, vanilla securities fraud may not be as attention-grabbing as Kozlowski's case, but for prosecutors and honest shareholders in other corruption cases, it's quite enough.