The list is long and growing. There's the "Amish Bernie Madoff," Monroe Beachy, accused of bilking residents of quiet Amish and Mennonite towns in Ohio. There's Raj Rajaratnam, former hedge fund manager, now a convicted criminal for insider trading. Then there's Marc Drier, a once prominent lawyer, convicted of defrauding hedge funds, investors and clients out of $400 million.
Then there are the really spectacular frauds that you've heard all about. Madoff and R. Allen Stanford may enter the criminal hall of fame for stealing billions.
The question comes to mind, where was the Securities and Exchange Commission on this? In the case of Madoff, they were tipped off years earlier. In the case of Stanford, suspicion dated back to 1997,but it took 12 years to file charges?
As the speed of trading literally approaches the speed of light, the SEC can't keep up. To wit, there's SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro's claim that many of the Wall Street firms her agency regulates have technology budgets that are larger than her total operating costs.
But it's easy to blame the regulators. What's much harder to do is blame the real culprits: Ourselves.
If you don't recognize that something is out of kilter when R. Allen Stanford's Stanford International Bank is paying CD rates nearly double that of other banks, is that really the SEC's fault? When Goldman Sachs sends you a 300-page offering circular with models created, literally, by rocket scientists, and you, or your investment manager claims s/he did not understand it, is that the SEC's fault?
In a word, no.
And this gets me back to why the enforcement arm of the SEC should be put away. It does more harm than good by relieving investors of the duty to do their own due diligence. It gives them the false sense of security they are protected from white collar crime, and perversely, this illusory assurance is precisely what causes investors to let their guard down and become victims.
Investors must learn that everything in life that has meaning, value and worth involves work, time and effort. Any investment professional -- even if he is wearing a bow tie and suspenders, went to an Ivy League school and is the master-of-the-universe-smartest-guy-in-the-room type -- who tries to convince you otherwise, is a at least a liar and likely a criminal.
But let's face it, the SEC is not a police force. They don't have the nylon windbreakers that say SEC on the back in big yellow letters. They cannot effectively fight crime, and therefore should not. Let's leave that to the Justice Department. It's as I've always said, if you think smoking is wrong and bad for society at large, don't regulate it, outlaw it.
Although the staff of the SEC performs its duty with valor and integrity, its enforcement activities are doing more harm than good. Ultimately, the only thing SEC enforcement is doing is putting a bull's eye on all of our backs.