Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sinners and Saints

YOU never quite know what stories will touch a nerve and whose nerve will be touched.

I wrote recently about Barry Minkow, the boy wonder carpet cleaning entrepreneur turned felon turned preacher and fraud investigator, who showed up recently on "60Minutes" as the poster boy for reformed criminals.

To make a long column short, I said that for all his remorsefulness and alleged good deeds, the new Barry still didn't quite pass the smell test.

Some readers agreed. Others accused me of anti-Christian bias. And at least one member of the criminal-turned-saint community felt compelled to respond at length.

That would be Sam E. Antar, who, like Barry Minkow, found himself up to his eyebrows in fraud some years back. Here's what he had to say:

"I was the former Chief Financial Officer of Crazy Eddie (a New York area consumer electronics retailer) who helped mastermind one of the largest securities frauds uncovered during the 1980s," Antar writes.

"Like Barry Minkow, my crimes hurt many people economically, many of whom have still not recovered today. I committed my crimes with full knowledge of the harm I was causing others and later only cooperated with the government out of fear of a very long prison sentence.
"I write the above, to give you insight into the heinous character to my early years of life, not to boast about my criminal past but to provide you some insight as to how Barry Minkow has inspired me to turn my life around...

"... After I was finished with the Crazy Eddie criminal and civil cases upon learning about Barry Minkow, I began to emulate him. I decided to help the accounting profession, the government and anti-fraud professionals in efforts to fight white collar crime.

"In the last two years alone, I have taught at over 20 college campuses, professional groups, and government organizations about white collar crime. I have 18 speaking appearances scheduled in the next 9 months alone. All my appearances are without charge or reimbursement for any cost.

"Am I a Boy Scout? Is Barry Minkow a Boy Scout? I cannot speak for Barry Minkow. However, I believe he would share my thoughts. When I am asked about my uncompensated speaking appearances I always warn audiences not to think of me as a Boy Scout. In today's business world we should never assume anyone's good intentions. For anti-fraud professionals the assumption of good intentions is a professional hazard.

"Likewise for reporters like yourself. Your profession requires professional skepticism too. However, why single out Barry Minkow just based on his past? The difference is that Barry Minkow is not being investigated, under inquiry, or under government scrutiny for what he is doing today in putting his life together and setting a positive example for others to follow in turning their lives around...

"Barry Minkow is trying to make amends for a past he cannot erase. He is setting an example for others like myself the turn our lives' around and become positive forces for good in our great country."

I wish both these gentlemen well in their new careers. After all, reformed car thieves advise cops on crime prevention. Ex-burglars give homeowners security advice.

But, in my mind as well as others, they will be forever dogged by their pasts. Minkow cost his investors more than $100 million. Antar not only defrauded the public out of multiple millions, but he also helped investigators send his family members to jail while he walked.

Both thumbed their noses at a country that was built on an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

What is the rate of recidivism for greed? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I hope Minkow and Antar are walking the straight and narrow. As Oscar Wilde once said, it is "remorse that makes one walk on thorns."

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