In 2007, former Olympic athlete Marion Jones entered a plea of “guilty” to charges that she illegally used performance-enhancing drugs. She was sentenced to six months in a federal corrections facility.  Meanwhile, of the dozens of Wall Street “banksters” who have stolen billions from all of us, only a small handful have ever done prison time. The most infamous example is Bernie Madoff, who is currently serving a life sentence.

Madoff’s mistake is that he stole from the rich (his victims included several prominent celebrities). As for the rest of these people (corporate as well as natural) – they get a virtual free pass. At the most, they buy their way out of trouble with a few paltry fines. This is what former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder considers “getting tough” on white collar crime?

“Paltry” is the best description here. A classic example is last year’s settlement with Bank of America (BoA) for its role in the sub-prime mortgage debacle. BoA agreed to pay fines and penalties totaling between $16 and $17 billion – the highest such settlement in U.S. history. However, most of that amount was written off on BoA’s corporate tax return as a “business expense.” About half of that amount consisted of “consumer relief” measures – write-downs, refinancing and other expenses that BoA would have laid out in any event. It was the same in a previous deal with J.P. Morgan. Taking into consideration the company’s deductions and credit given for a previous settlement, that banking behemoth wound up forking over less than half of the reported settlement.

And as it is, these fines are chump change compared to the damage done by these criminal banksters.

Meanwhile, back in February, Eric Holder announced that charges would be brought against “Wall Street criminals” responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown. The question of why this wasn’t done years ago notwithstanding, it’s now July. How many of these criminals are in prison, or have even appeared before a judge?

Coincidentally, Holder stepped down, and the current U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, took over just a little more than sixty days after that “get tough on Wall Street crime” announcement. Lynch has a sterling record as a corporate attorney. Should we be surprised that not one of these banksters has been brought up on charges, as her predecessor promised over five months ago?

As things stand, the U.S. Department of Justice is an impotent, compromised, virtually useless collection of corporate sycophants and lickspittles.

We at The Ring of Fire do not condone nor defend Marion Jones nor her actions. But in the end, she was her own victim; her actions did not cause irreparable harm to anyone but herself. The same can be said about the many non-violent drug offenders now crowding America’s for-profit prisons. Meanwhile,  men (primarily white) in business suits who cost families their homes, their savings and their livelihoods continue to strut around, smoking (currently still illegal) Cuban cigars and sipping $1000-a-bottle champagne as they ride in their stretch limos and private jets. Smirking, they raise their hands to the rest of us in the famous “one finger salute.”

Joseph Wambaugh, former LAPD officer and best-selling novelist, put it best when he wrote: “A rich man’s prank is a poor man’s felony.” The moral here: if you’re going to do the crime, make sure you’re a wealthy, well-connected white corporate executive, and do it with a pen or a computer – and you won’t have to do the time.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.