With their rictus faces and ashen complexions and the prospect of long jail sentences, the Bernie Madoffs of the world, Rogue accountants, lawyers, and hedge fund managers go meekly into federal courts.
A little plastic surgery. A large sum of money may buy you a sun-kissed life on an Indian Ocean archipelago as a fugitive. Some of which have no extradition treaties with the US. Even a low-paying job operating an outboard motor for a Somali pirate skiff seems preferable to a life sentence in a federal maximum-security prison. Even though more plutocrats are facing criminal probes, few consider fleeing a viable alternative. Perhaps it’s a case of nerves failing. Perhaps, in the age of Facebook and “America’s Most Wanted,” there aren’t enough places on the planet for a renegade to hide.
(A caveat: the crucial word here is “comfortably hide.”)
North Korea, the lesser stands, and the tribal territories of western Pakistan are out of reach of the law, but the lifestyle isn’t quite four-star. Vic O’Boyski, a retired supervisory United States marshal, refers to himself as a “flight philosopher.” The FBI places attachés at embassies, forensic accountants track off-shore accounts, and law enforcement gurus create computer mock-ups of aged faces.
“Look, it’s tough,” he continues, “no phone calls, no mail, no Facebook, no money.” “You have a problem if you don’t have an escape strategy.” The life of a fugitive used to be simpler. Robert Vesco, the stock scammer and illegal campaign contributor to President Richard Nixon, arrived in Costa Rica in 1972, donated $2.1 million to a firm formed by the president, and waited until (miracle!) Costa Rica approved a law prohibiting his extradition. Costa Rica is already a popular vacation destination for inexpensive vacationers, but scavengers seeking to avoid extradition are not welcome.
In a city
When New York Mayor Jimmy Walker accused of bribe-taking in 1932, he packed up his unusually enormous mayoral income. The world has become more constrained. According to a 2007 assessment, the United States has extradition treaties with every country in the Western Hemisphere and much of Europe.
The most successful fugitives are high-end career criminals rather than bankers; James “Whitey” Bulger Jr., the leader of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang, vanished in 1995 and has not been seen since, despite sightings reported from Taormina, Sicily, to Dublin, Ireland (unlikely) (much more likely). Mr. O’Boyski explains, “He puts on a pea cap and picks up his shillelagh, and he’s just one of a thousand old Irish fellas.”
Political assailants are slick
They usually conduct crimes like bombing bank heists, fading away. Sara Jane Olson, a Symbionese Liberation Army bank robber served seven years in prison. Hse had lived as a middle-class mother in Minnesota for 26 years. White-collar fugitives are less remarkable; in a boardroom, they’re sharks, but on the run, they’re pedestrians. Joe Judge, a retired FBI agent, couldn’t hide his displeasure when he learned that three fugitives were holed up in the Breakers hotel. Mr. Judge stated, “They’re powerless.” “They’re just bad assassins.”
Many white-collar criminals believe they are too intelligent to be convicted: if they are allowed to testify, they believe they would persuade jurors.” It’s amazing how many people don’t comprehend their dilemma,” says Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor, and current Columbia University law professor. “I was never able to figure out why suspects lingered.”Some people do run.
Rudolph W. Giuliani was a prosecutor when he indicted commodities trader Marc Rich, who sought sanctuary in Switzerland in 1983. Mr. Rich would have his own miracle in 2001, when President Bill Clinton pardoned him hours before leaving office, probably with the help of his wife’s political donations.
Two other people stand out as exemplars of the fugitive plutocrat
Jacob (Kobi) Alexander, an Israeli-American business wunderkind, charged with wire and securities fraud by a federal jury in 2006. Mr. Alexander and his family fled to Namibia, a country with which the US has no extradition treaty. The fugitive essentially attempted to purchase Namibia.
He supported scholarships and erected low-income solar-powered structures in Windhoek, and he lived in a magnificent mansion. According to The Wall Street Journal, he felt confident enough to throw his son a four-day bar mitzvah in New York City.
Then there’s Sholam Weiss, whose run is hallucinogenic poetry in motion. He was a plumber from Brooklyn who excelled at financial deception. While on trial in Florida on allegations of defrauding a vast insurance firm in 1999, he fled to Brazil. There he met a lover and was once seen cavorting with ten prostitutes.
Five of them were dressed as parochial-school students. Mr. Judge, the F.B.I. agent, became concerned that Mr. Weiss was attempting to impregnate a Brazilian, as extradition is prohibited if a fugitive has a child in the nation. “We were fighting not just extradition but ovulation,” he recalls. Unfortunately, this fugitive story comes with a warning label.
Mr. Weiss apprehended, but only after fleeing Brazil for Austria. In his absence, an enraged federal judge gave down a harsh sentence, as Mr. Weiss’s release date indicates: Nov. 23, 2754.
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