BusinessWeek called him one of the Top 25 Managers of the Year. Fortune included him on a a list of People to Watch. He made nearly a half-billion dollars along the way. But now 63-year old "Deal-a-Day" Dennis Kozlowski is inmate No. 05A4820, at a correctional facility in New York. In 2003, Kozlowski was indicted for stealing company money and eventually convicted and sentenced to eight to 25 years. In addition, there were fines of millions of dollars. But how does he compare to those who destroyed AIG, Lehman or Bear Stearns? Fortune now says:
He is the embodiment of an earlier epoch of corporate greed and personal profligacy, circa a decade ago. Yet along with WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers and Jeffrey Skilling -- serving their own long sentences -- Kozlowski now looks like small fry in the sea of financial shenanigans. The question is whether that makes him a template for prosecutors today or a scapegoat deserving retrospective leniency. I would suggest the latter.
Kozlowski has a new appeal pending, this time before a federal judge in Manhattan; the government's papers are due Nov. 30. State courts have thrown out his claims. The technical constitutional issue is whether he was denied a fair trial because he didn't have access to prosecutorial evidence that might have helped his defense ... Given that Tyco remains a strong company -- unlike Enron and WorldCom, whose demises were caused by their leaders' criminality -- wasn't Kozlowski unfairly demonized? And isn't the inequity of his punishment underscored by what has not yet befallen the corporate leaders who nearly took down the international economy last year? ... Instead of judges, politicians ought to be reassessing the fairness of Kozlowski's sentence.
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