PETTY THEFT OR GRAND LARCENY
February 21, 2011 2 Comments
“We create an environment where it is alright to hate, to steal, to cheat, and to lie if we dress it up with symbols of respectability, dignity and love.”
Young, Whitney Moore Jr. (1921-1971) American Civil Rights Leader
It appears that some people believe that it is alright to steal if we just call it “fiddling expenses”, and particularly if we dress it up with the respectability of high office and public service.
I find it hard to understand how people in senior elevated positions can justify this mode of petty theft as being their right and one of “the perks” of the job, and risk their reputations, their position in society, their families and friends, and their jobs for the sake of some relatively paltry amounts.
One company I worked for had to fire a number of senior people for cheating on their company fuel cards. These were people with annual salaries well in excess of €100,000, but they were prepared to risk everything in return for regularly filling up their spouse’s car at company expense which gained them about €50 each time. Some of them were so sure that this was their right that they didn’t even bother to try and hide the fact that they were filling up with both diesel and unleaded with the same fuel card.
We also see this “pickpocket” mentality in our politicians, most recently in the UK, where their defence is that they were told by others that this form of “theft” was actually part of their remuneration package. It is one thing to believe that the public should pay for fixing your moat … at least you can argue that you “genuinely” thought that general maintenance was included in your allowable expense package, and that moat fixing fell into that category. It is another thing entirely when you lie and falsify reality to be recompensed for things that are not real, like expenses incurred for a house that you don’t actually own or live in.
Lord Taylor of Warwick is facing jail after being convicted of making false expense claims totalling £11,000, saying that it was “…a common practice …” for at least 85% of all peers to “ … maximise their expenses …”. Lord Taylor, who is a qualified barrister was convicted for claiming night subsistence and mileage on a house where he had never spent a night and which actually belonged to his nephew.
David Chaytor, the former Labour MP for Bury North has already been jailed for 18 months for falsely claiming £20,000 in expenses, and Eric Illsley, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central has pleaded guilty to a similar offence and is awaiting sentence. The list goes on, and for similar small amounts.
By comparison, Ronald Biggs and his cohorts pulled off the “The Great Train Robbery” in1963, when they held up the Glasgow mail train. He got away with £2.6 million, which is equivalent to about £40 million today, and became a national folk hero in the process. With the help of a daring jail break and then fleeing the country, he has spent just 8 years in jail and was only caught when after 35 years on the run, and because of ill health, he decided to return to the UK and surrender.
This means that if we calculate the risk/reward ratios, then Biggs at £40 million for 8 years of incarceration equates to £5 million per year. Bernie Madoff who ran the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of mankind was given a jail sentence of 150 years for theft of $65 billion which annualises to over $400 million. However, as Madoff is already 73 years old, the odds are that he will at most last only 15 years giving him an actual annual return of $4 billion.
Ex MP David Chaytor, a man who had managed to rise to high office in English politics, risked it all for a mere £13,000 per year making him an extremely base and insignificant petty criminal. 200 years ago he would have been deported to one of the colonies.
Honesty and integrity are certainly the best way to live your life, but if you really do decide to do something illegal you should definitely opt for grand larceny just to make the potential rewards worth risking your entire future life and everything that you have achieved so far.
If you pick the right target, you may even end up a folk hero in the process.