Should Victims Pay?


I’ve written lately about the convictions of con men–one locally in Minneapolis, Tom Petters and of course, Bernie Madoff. As a criminal defense lawyer, I’ve represented con men in the past. In my last post I suggested that one of the reasons they are successful is that their “victims” are willing partners.


I’m not talking about charitable foundations, elderly people, or naive people who didn’t understand what they were getting into. I’m thinking of those wealthy people that both these con men sought out at country clubs and business networks. These are people who usually investigate the way they spend their money carefully. But in the case of these scams, the investors didn’t look much at all.

Why? Greed is a big factor.

All of us want to “get in on” the inside track of investing to make a huge score that we couldn’t ordinarily get from our 401k’s. The con man offers that illusion and if questioned, even backs it up with phony numbers. Usually, these types of investors turn over every rock to make sure what they’re putting their money into is legitimate. But they didn’t do that.

Of course, the skill of a con man is to build up trust so that investors will specifically not check out the deal as carefully as they normally would do. Still, when greed starts to rise, any of us can ignore the safeguards we put into place to protect us.

The con man bears the blame for the crime but doesn’t it make sense that smart, savvy investors, driven by greed should bear some responsibility? Their greed led them to give the crooks their money without much questioning. Or maybe once the scam breaks open, we should make sure the naive and uninformed victims get compensated first with whatever’s left. The sophisticated investor goes to second place in the recovery.

I know this sounds opposite to every idea we have about victims and their rights but these scams are different crimes than others that could only occur because greedy people think they’re getting on the inside track to make big money. Shouldn’t they bear some responsibility?

What do you think? Should we treat these “victims’ differently?

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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