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What makes a guy throw his reputation away? What makes a guy throw his firm's reputation away? What goes through people's minds when they shaft one constituency for another?
I often wonder about those issues when I think about the various reprehensible actions taken by individuals on Wall Street. Now, understand, we are going to hear a full panoply of "taken out of context" and "you don't know the full story" from the mutual funds who played this sordid game. We are going to hear lots of "on background, let me tell you there is a lot more to it than what Spitzer let on." We are going to be treated to an endless barrage of how these net asset value robberies didn't really hurt anybody and "we didn't really do it."
I say that because I am a lawyer and I know that if I were paid by one of these ne'er-do-well clients to put up a defense I would offer all of those. I would go on background and feed the press a line about how this was done rarely, if at all, and isn't nearly as sinister as you think. I would say that there is no demonstrable way to show who got hurt and that it was irrelevant even if we did it, which we didn't.
I would do all of those things because we are at the stage in our society where lawyers know that they can say whatever they want in defense to snow people and get away with it.
But I keep coming back to a simple series of points. Someone made a decision at each of these firms that what mattered more than fairness and equity was making some money through fees. That someone said it didn't matter if you stiffed the little guy because he would never know it and all that matters is pleasing the big guys. That someone also figured he would get away with it and what is the worst that would happen? That he would be applauded for helping the company make a good quarter?
This scam was unambiguous. The mutual funds either should be thrown out of the game or the people who perpetrated these scams be sent to jail. This is simple bank fraud, no different from if someone wired money out of your account to another account simply because that account is bigger than you are and paid more money to have the wire done than you could over a lifetime of staying with the firm.
Don't let people obscure this simple case of greed. Take it from me, as a former hedge fund manager. I can't believe anyone would ever do this for me. And if they did, I couldn't live with myself, much like the person who found out about this who couldn't live with himself and gave it to Spitzer's office.
Personal accountability does matter. Making poor decisions that hurt hundreds to make one person happy who pays you a lot of money to do it is simply sickening and reprehensible.
Maybe it's time that people pull their money out if nothing's done this time. These aren't banks; they are mutual funds. There'd be no run.
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made.
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