How Wall Street Millionaires Really Think About Ethics

As a retired federal Contracting Officer (CO), professor and ethics trainer/consultant I was sort of “taken aback” yesterday when playing a round of golf down here in Florida where I live in “the Villages” Florida. I was paired up with two seemingly wealthy gents from a place called “Safe Harbor” in Florida. They seemed (appearances are deceiving) rather nice, and had an air about them with their gold Rolex watches, gold chains, and flashy clothes (even if they were both greatly overweight). Anyway, during our round of golf, and while waiting for a group in front of us to move on we got into a discussion of who, what, where and how we all lived (financially speaking) that led us to the discussion of the financial housing market collapse of 2008, and the near demise of our nation due to the greed, unethical behavior, etc. of Wall Street tycoons, mortgage bankers, brokers, real estimate agents and title firms.

The one older man I will call “Fred” told me before we got further into this discussion that he owned not only a house on the beach in New Jersey (near NYC), but a 5,000 square foot home with a yacht in Safe Harbor and also a million dollar “Premier” home in the Villages, Florida (where I live). I thought to myself “wow, this guys is loaded” but continued with the Wall Street and housing market discussion. I stated that I was aghast that Eric Holder (Attorney General) had not prosecuted one single Wall Street CEO, or CFO in Bear Stearns, AIG, etc. Fred retorted that two senior executives from Wall Street Investment firms had in fact been charged and tried and although not by the federal government, but by New York State, and had been found innocent.

I could see the anger Fred had on his face as it was turning “red” and his jaw was twitching very tightly, but I continued and told Fred that regardless of a state indicting Wall Street executives, that the federal government had only to date gone after very low level bankers, mortgage brokers, and real estate agents, and not one single CEO or CFO to date has been criminally charged on any of the big Wall Street firms (firms have but no individuals), and that as a taxpayer, citizen, and ethics teacher I was appalled at the lack of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” policy by our federal government, not just under Bush, but also President Obama with an attorney general that doesn’t really seem to care about the fat cats of Wall Street getting away with the largest crime in the history of the United States.

Our game went well, except that Fred kept bogeying or double-bogeying every hole, while I was making birdie and par on nearly every hole, but the 9th. When we finally shook hands and said the usual “thanks for the nice game guys” was when Fred put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Bob, you know back on the 2nd hole when you were vilifying those Wall Street Execs? Well, I happen to be one of them guys, and I don’t appreciate your tone towards people like me, or the feeling that the federal government hasn’t done anything. The fact that two of “our people” have been found totally innocent should be enough said. You by the way are rude, not very gracious, and just an ass.”

I replied to Fred saying, “Thanks for the compliment! So how’s that working for you? I often find that people who can’t shed water, get their personal feathers ruffled, or have anger over generalized statements usually have something personal to hide or feel guilty about. If that fits YOU Fred, I hope you can’t sleep at night, but it appears I am right because you played a lousy game of golf, and by the way…thanks for your comments. It shows I got to you.”

Now, after all this I was not bothered at all, had no guilty feelings for what I said to him, especially after learning Fred was a millionaire many times over, and I just an old simple retired federal employee that did my job well for the government- unlike Eric Holder who has not.

What I know now more than ever is simply this: The rich really DO think differently than the common man or woman, and it unfortunate that our government has not indicted more of the fat cats of Wall Street. We have several “classes” of people that live here in “The Villages” from the rich that live in “premier homes” to the middle class that live in “designer homes” to the poorer folk that live in “cottage style home.” So you see, even when you retire, class warfare still goes on in retirement.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? (please chime in)

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Jaime Gracia

What a great story Bob. Thanks for sharing. Greed is the pervasive mind set that has gotten us into this horrible situation that we are slowly but surely getting ourselves out of. It can’t happen fast enough, but we will get there.

Furthermore, ethics and integrity are a competitive disadvantage in most industries these days. As we share similar backgrounds (other than golf, as I stink), I often tell people in the government contract world this fact and the recoil reaction I get is startling. It is if I am saying something not said in polite circles, akin to not discussing politics or religion.

It is a fact that the Obama Administration has basically taken a “the past is the past” approach to an era of open malfeasance and criminality, taking us back to the Robber Baron days of unfettered capitalism and pure exploitation.

You want to see this up close? Watch the PBS Frontline special on Wall Street. It will make your eyes roll into the back of your head…

Jaime Gracia

So I had a debate last night with a finance guy who stated that these corporate chieftains on Wall Street did not violate any laws, and that there were no “illegal” actions that occurred during the economic meltdown of 2008-2009 when the housing bubble collapsed. He stated that the culprit were the homebuyers (a.k.a consumers), who saddled themselves with mortgages they could not afford, and are now demanding satisfaction and help.

I countered with all the “signage mills,” where financial institutions were creating tons of fraudulent documents “signed” by corporate executives, in addition to the fraud committed on investors buying worthless repacked portfolios of mortgage securities that were ticking time bombs, but were sold as great investments through ratings agencies. Further, the same financial institutions were shorting the portfolios they were selling, and making billions in profits as a result.

“Liberal propaganda” and “I hate people that make money” was the response.

There you have it…