A television series called “Orange is the New Black” deals with life inside a women’s prison. The show’s title, of course, refers to how orange jumpsuits worn by female inmates are the new fashion standard supplanting black, the perennial favorite.
Judging by some recent events, another appropriate name for a TV program could be “White Collars are the New Orange OR Black.” That’s because certain upper-echelon white-collar criminals seem to be favored to the point they don’t even have to worry about prison at all.
There are many examples of this, most notably the Wall Street CEOs who caused the 2008 financial catastrophe. Their actions drove the global economy to near-oblivion and caused millions of Americans to lose their homes along with other untold miseries still being felt today.
Strangely, none of those who led any of the large firms that played a role in the crisis have ever been prosecuted, much less spent even a day in prison — thus prompting the “too big to jail” terminology.
A more recent case involves former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who last January was sentenced to two years of active time after his conviction on federal corruption charges in September 2014 following the usual trial lasting weeks and weeks. His wife also was found guilty in the case that stemmed from gifts the McDonnells received from a businessman.
They accepted more than $177,000 in money and luxury goods from that individual seeking to use the governor’s office to have a supplement made by his company registered as a pharmaceutical product with the Food and Drug Administration.
The McDonnells were duly convicted in a court of law and sentenced to active time. However — just like the Wall Street robber-barons — neither of the pair has spent a single day in prison. The first Virginia governor to be indicted or convicted of a felony and Mrs. McDonnell have been allowed to remain free on bond while their appeals are heard.
Since they have been found guilty, these crybabies should just accept their punishment. Yet I fear they somehow will have their convictions overturned and end up pulling no time at all.
Such situations reinforce the notion there are two sets of rules, one for us regular Americans and another for people of position and power who commit white-collar crimes.
I remember when I once covered Superior Court sessions in Dobson. Superior Court tended to be the end of the line where the final judgment was handed down. When that day came, people sentenced to active time were immediately taken to jail — no passing go or collecting $200.
Many is the time I have sat in court and witnessed the sad occasion of a convicted person hugging his crying mother or wife before being led out of the courtroom and into the North Carolina prison system.
Yes, the Joe Schmoes do have the right to appeal their cases, but the difference between them and people such as the Virginia governor and his wife is that the Schmoes must remain behind bars during the appeals process.
Where’s the fairness here?
Even Kenneth Lay, the founder of Enron Corp., a company embroiled in a notorious financial scandal in the early 2000s, was allowed to remain free while awaiting sentencing after being convicted on multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy. Lay died of coronary artery disease in 2006 before reporting to prison.
Now there is talk of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton possibly being indicted for her alleged mishandling of classified information in her email system while she was secretary of state.
It is my guess, however, that even if all the recent hot air translates into actual charges against Mrs. Clinton, she likely will never be tried or convicted, which means much time and money resources would be wasted by investigators and prosecutors.
One also can rightfully suspect that prosecutorial efforts might be half-hearted in some cases, simply to make the public think serious attempts are being mounted to bring the high and mighty to justice.
But if corrupt government and other officials end up not having to pay for their crimes in terms of being deprived of their freedom through incarceration, what’s the use? Why go through a protracted legal fight butting heads with high-priced defense teams?
Prosecutors might just as well copy what happened with the Wall Street scandal and charge no one at all.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693.