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The 10 Worst White Collar Crimes In History

There were a number of huge fraud cases in the 2000s

Even though they wear thousand-dollar suits, sit behind expensive desks and make absurd amounts of money, rich businessmen and women can still commit crimes and steal your money.

White-collar crime has been taking place for decades and still runs rife in the modern day.

The people on this list are responsible for stealing/losing millions and sometimes even billions of dollars that don’t belong to them.

Michael Milken

First on the list is Michael Milken, who was the head of the high-yield bond department of Drexel Burnham Lambert.

The firm was a large investment banking firm in the USA.


He grew into the public eye for his involvement in popularizing the market for high-yield “junk” bonds.

“Junk” bonds are bonds that have a higher risk of default or other damaging credit events.

They generally pay higher profits than actual quality bonds in order to make them attractive to investors.

He was caught after a colleague outed him for making fraudulent transactions such as insider trading and stock manipulation.

He was fined $600 million and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1989 but served only two.

Milken was also responsible for Drexel Burnham Lambert filing for bankruptcy in 1990.

He was given a presidential pardon by President Donald Trump in 2020.

Since then he has dedicated his life to charitable causes, including prostate cancer research.

Jerome Kerviel

Kerviel was an ex-employee of the French bank Société Générale, headquartered in Paris.

Kerviel rose to fame in the financial industry in 2008 as a rogue trader.

This means he carried out trades that were not approved by his employer and “did his own thing.”

However, this went wrong over a three-day period when Kerviel lost his company around $5.5 billion.

In 2012, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his crimes.

Dennis Kozlowski

Kozlowski was the CEO of Tyco International, which is a security systems company headquartered in the USA.

As the CEO, Kozlowski was well known for his lavish lifestyle and spending habits.

This included paying a staggering $1 million for a single birthday party for his wife.

He was thrown into the public eye in 2005 when he was charged with crimes related to the fact that he received $81 million in unauthorized bonuses from the company.

It was claimed he even used company money to purchase a $30 million New York City apartment.

His crimes saw him serving nearly 10 years in prison and was released in January of 2014.

Nick Leeson

Leeson was a British derivatives trader with Barings Bank, which was the UK’s oldest merchant bank.

When his trades weren’t going well with losses of about $2 million, Leeson made a mistake that would change his life and the UK financial industry forever.

On January 16th, 1995, he bet that the Japanese stock market wouldn’t move that much overnight.

But, in the early hours of January 17th, the Kobe earthquake hit and sent the markets plummeting.

He tried to quickly rectify these losses with a couple of increasingly risky trades that didn’t pay off.

By the end, about a month later, Leeson’s losses totaled $1.4 billion, which was twice the available trading capital of the company, which sent it under.

He was sentenced to six and a half years for his crimes and sent to prison in Singapore.

He survived colon cancer and now makes a living as an after-dinner speaker.

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Jack Abramoff

Jack Abramoff was originally a college Republican who eventually became a lobbyist.

As a lobbyist, he would wind up being at the center of one of the biggest political corruption scandals in U.S. history.

Abramoff had access to the Bush administration and many other top Republicans and was very powerful in his role. His crimes came to light when he was working on Native American casino gambling interests when it was publicized that he and his partner, Michael Scanlon, overbilled their clients and pocketed the money.

Overall, they charged $85 million for their services, which is much more than it should have been. He was sentenced to a prison term of six years for his part in the scandal in 2006.

Allen Stanford

Stanford was the chairman of his own financial company called the Stanford Financial Group of companies. He was also a prominent financier and professional sports sponsor.

He found himself in some hot water when, in 2009, it was revealed that his entire company was nothing but a Ponzi scheme and was responsible for a huge ongoing fraud involving around $7 billion.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator pays returns to its investors from new money brought in by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.

For this horrible crime, he was sentenced to a staggering 110 years in prison.

Charles Ponzi

Speaking of Ponzi schemes, this man is the founder of the term.

Charles Ponzi was an Italian businessman who was made famous for his cons in the USA and Canada.

He promised his clients a 50 percent profit within 45 days, or 100 percent profit within 90 days, by buying discounted postal reply coupons in other countries and selling them back at face value in the United States as a form of arbitrage, which is taking advantage of the price difference between two or more markets.

His scheme ran for about a year and cost his investors about $20 million in 1920, which is a massive $287 million in 2022.

Kenneth Lay

Lay was an American businessman and the CEO of Enron during their monumental scandal and played a leading role in the corruption taking place.

Enron was a public energy company and its crash was one of the biggest scandals of all time. Despite seeming like it was prospering as a company, Enron wasn’t actually doing very well.

In order to hide this fact, it took advantage of lax accounting regulations, tax loopholes, and all sorts of unethical practices. By hiding their true worth, everyone believed the company was doing fantastically and wanted to invest.

But once the truth came out, they lost everything and the company went under. Lay was expected to be sentenced to around 10 years in prison but actually died on a vacation in Colorado a few months before his sentencing in 2006.

Bernie Ebbers

Ebbers is a Canadian businessman who co-founded and was the former CEO of the telecommunications company, WorldCom.

Similar to the Enron scandal, WorldCom was found to have been finagling its numbers to make the company appear more valuable in order to entice investors.

Ebbers himself was a billionaire and was making a killing from his scheming activities.

At the time, this was the largest accounting scandal in US history, as they raised their company’s worth by about $11 billion. For his role in this mess, Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2005.

He died aged 78 in 2020.

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Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff is well known as the founder of his own Wall Street firm, and also known as a big-time swindler and Ponzi scheme operator.

In fact, Madoff was behind the single biggest financial fraud scandal in U.S history.

His whole operation was nothing but a huge lie and he was able to scam thousands of people out of billions of dollars.

The scam began all the way back in 1991 and he was finally put to trial in 2009.

It is estimated that the final amount missing from client accounts was around $65 billion. As a result, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum that was allowed in 2009.

In a letter to the victims of his crimes, he wrote: "I have left a legacy of shame, as some of my victims have pointed out, to my family and my grandchildren.

"This was something I will live in for the rest of my life. I'm sorry. I know that doesn’t help you."

Madoff died in prison aged 82.

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