Congress and the public frequently express concern as to whether defendants in white collar cases are sufficiently punished. It is popular to think that defendants in these cases serve a short term at “Club Fed,” a kind of country club prison, and then move on. Accordingly, over the years Congress has repeatedly increased the length of sentences. Nevertheless, with the passage of Dodd-Frank, Congress requested that the U.S. Sentencing Commission review its guidelines in white collar cases. The question is whether the sentences are harsh enough.
Congress and the public need not be concerned. U.S. v. Nadel (S.D.N.Y.) (here) is one example of the kind of sentences being handed down in these cases. Arthur Nadel pleaded guilty to charges based on operating a Ponzi scheme. Last week, he was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison. In handing down the sentence, Judge Koeltl also ordered that Mr. Nadel serve three years of supervised release following his prison term and forfeit $162 million along with certain real estate in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, five airplanes and one helicopter.
The sentence is based on Mr. Nadel’s February 2010 guilty plea to fifteen counts of securities fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud. The charges stem from allegations that Mr. Nadel fraudulently raised over $330 million from about 390 investors. The money was suppose to be invested in six funds operated by the defendant from 1999 through January 2009.
Investors were solicited with claims that the various funds yielded returns from 11% to as high as 55% per year. The returns supposedly came from Mr. Nadel’s trading prowess. Investors were furnished with statements listing their investment and profits as proof. Mr. Nadel charged millions in management fees.
Nobody wins all the time and neither did Mr. Nadel. To the contrary, he repeatedly lost money. Likewise, the management fees were not sufficient to support his life style and business ventures. In addition to a lavish life style, Mr. Nadel was supporting his real estate project in North Carolina, his wife’s flower shop and the purchase of several private planes. To pay for all of this, investor funds were siphoned off and diverted to Mr. Nadel’s personal use.
Sentences in white collar cases such as are driven largely by the amount of money involved and the number of victims. In Mr. Nadel’s case, the dollars were large and his crimes harmed many. Thus his sentence is not a surprise. Yet, few crimes in either the federal or state system result in life in prison. In cases such as this, however, the sentence can amount to just that.