5 Convicted Felons with their Graduate Degree

By William Sharon on October 29, 2013

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The funny thing about crime, is that the criminal hierarchy deviates little from the education-based social hierarchy that structures society’s legal side. Criminals who are uneducated tend to commit “blue-collar” crimes, while the rich, well-educated CEO’s commit “white-collar” crimes (yes, this is a huge generality). Incidentally, there is a strong correlation between higher-education and “sophistication” of crime.

Though it feels like we have a new “former governor” to mock and disdain every time we flip over to the news, very few white-collar criminals actually get caught. The reason: the guys who commit these crimes are quite often highly educated and extremely intelligent. Though as a society we scorn and detest these people, there is no doubt that white-collar crime has been hugely glorified by our culture (ever seen The Godfather?). Thus, we are both sickened and impressed by the top-tier of white-collar criminals. The people who got into the colleges we never could, had the jobs we never dreamed of, and who ultimately threw it all away to spend lifetimes in prison.

So where do these white-collar criminals go wrong? Maybe early on in life, maybe well into their careers, maybe they were just “born that way.” What is clear is that the degree to which the actions of these people reflect the education they received is debatable (my sense is that the particular institution is not a major influence), but nonetheless, it’s interesting to know just where the guys at the top of the criminal hierarchy developed the technical knowledge required to commit the horrible crimes they did. With no further ado, here are five white-collar criminals and the universities from which they earned master’s degrees (or greater).

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1. Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff has become quite the household name since it was discovered that a branch of his firm was actually a Ponzi-scheme, and that he had effectively scammed investors out of over $50 billion. To put Madoff’s infamy in perspective; you know you’re a well known white-collar criminal when rappers start naming you in songs (Lil’ Wayne, to name just one). Madoff attended Brooklyn Law School, though he ultimately quit in order to start his own investment firm.

2. Jack Abramoff

Although it is an ironic concept, the news that a law school grad is a convicted criminal is not particularly striking. Jack Abramoff was charged with several crimes, but he is primarily known for illegally collecting inflated lobbying and legal fees from clients to fund “gifts” for legislators. Abramoff is a graduate of Georgetown Law School.

3. Andrew Fastow

Fastow was the CFO of Enron during the scandal in 2001, and was convicted on 78 counts including fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. He earned himself a reduced sentence in exchange for a position as an informant to authorities. The graduate school that produced this one: Northwestern University.

4. Edwin Edwards

Should a school be proud that it produced a state governor, or ashamed that it produced a convict of 17 charges including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud? The school that produced Edwin Edwards, the former governor of Louisiana, got both. The winner of the shame/glory combo: LSU Law School.


5. Joseph Nacchio

Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest, was convicted of insider trading and was fined $19 million, on top of the $52 million he was forced to return after it was discovered that he obtained the money through illegal stock sales. The graduate alma-maters of this white-collar criminal: MIT and NYU.

One would expect a correlation between education and aversion to crime (which I won’t deny, exists), but it is clear that in some cases higher education provided, rather than a lesson on legal adherence, a path by which to enter a more convoluted field of criminal behavior. Nevertheless, as long as we are not personally affected by white-collar criminals, we often find entertainment in the potential of those who are so high up on the societal ladder, to come tumbling so far down.

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By William Sharon

Uloop Writer
My name is Wil Sharon and I am a junior English major at OSU. I am pre-law, and have a minor in creative writing. I love sports and play baseball and soccer frequently. I hope to one day become a lawyer, though I would also like to publish books.

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