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Susan Estrich
12 Feb 2016
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5 Feb 2016
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Billionaire Babies


Raj Rajaratnam should be about the last person in the world that I have any sympathy for. I don't know him. I don't have a lot in common with billionaires who would cheat to save $3 million, as he was convicted of doing. I dislike insider trading, not so much because it's unfair (it's also unfair that so many people are so much better than me at investing) but because it undermines confidence in the markets, and our economy depends on that confidence.

So I'm not here to make excuses for the former billionaire, as he's now being called. After federal authorities wiretapped his calls and caught him talking —- and talking — he was convicted this week on a slew of counts of securities violations and conspiracy and faces up to 19 years in prison.

Rajaratnam did not take the stand, but the jury reportedly got quite an earful on the calls. He was a consummate name-dropper. He was forever dropping tidbits about what whoever he just talked to told him, proving in a single line both that he was an insider and that he was letting you (whoever was on the line) in, too.

You know the kind of guy. Whenever you see him, he shares a tidbit he heard that morning from someone rich/powerful/famous who made him promise not to tell a soul. You know you're one of a long list, but you can't help but smile at the thought that he's taken you into his confidence.

One of the rites of initiation to high-level Democratic politics used to be the rundown on which of the Democratic dons you had to be sure to call before lunch so he could tell everyone whatever it was you just happened to tell him that morning. That was the second part: Have a few tidbits to spread around every day. Spread them to politicians. Spread them to the press. Spread them to anyone you were trying to reach out to and bring into the fold.

They didn't need to be great tidbits. No worries about staying up all night thinking of tidbits.

They could be from the morning paper, for goodness sake, or from a poll you were releasing that day, or from an ad that ran somewhere last week. That was the beauty of it. What was being said was far less important than the mutual process of identification — the inside wink — where who you know is far more important than what you know.

Greed? Sure. He didn't need the money; they never do. But a guy who is basically greedy doesn't tell everyone in sight. He uses the information for his own benefit, not as conversational fodder. He keeps the names secret and the information close to his chest. Rajaratnam did just the opposite.

One of the defense experts apparently reviewed exhibits that demonstrated that in many of the cases at issue, the inside information Rajaratnam passed on or traded on was publicly available. It was not secret at all. That should be a defense.

I don't know why, but the jury was not convinced. My guess is that they did not like Rajaratnam very much, sitting there silently in his expensive shirts, showing off his wealth and power on the tapes — a big, fat rich guy.

Maybe so. But it never ceases to amaze me how completely and totally insecure some of the most successful people in the world are. When I read the quotes from the tapes, I shook my head: Here is a 53-year-old billionaire, with houses everywhere, board chairs, surrounded by people who will kowtow to him and meet his every need, and he's bragging on the phone like a kid showing off how popular he is.

Market types are saying the conviction should not have any impact on the markets. By Lehman Brothers standards, it's chump change. But if it's not a story that will change stock values, it's still worth talking about to your teenage (or older) kid.

He didn't need the money. He didn't need to brag. To have done less would have made him bigger. But only a secure man would understand that. No matter how much he made, he never got there. The insecurities that almost surely drove him to succeed also cost him that success. Some baggage will kill you if you don't find a way to leave it behind.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



8 Comments | Post Comment
Guess you don't like John Kerry either. He has stolen more that this stockbroker.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Paul
Fri May 13, 2011 5:38 PM
Dear Susan,
It is a matter of record that George W. Bush sold over 800,000 shares of stock in Harken Oil on the same day of a board meeting where he was informed that the company was in trouble. He was president and CEO of Harken oil and left the board meeting just long enough to call in a sell order for his stock. He then went back into the meeting. His dad was president of the United States at the time and Dubya was never prosecuted. You should research this and tell us why he was never prosecuted? I had a family member who owned stock at the was around 4.00 a share and plunged to $2.00 a share within days. Bush was REQUIRED to make a public filing with the SEC concerning that insider trade. He never did. When Martha Stewart went to jail, it reminded me of what George W. Bush did only on a much more massive wscale. Where was the Justice Department then??? Check that story out and write about it. Most of the facts are public record.
Comment: #2
Posted by: robert lipka
Fri May 13, 2011 8:00 PM
Dear Susan,
Some of the "facts" in my previous post are wrong although the basic gist is correct. For those who wish to read better accounts of George W. Bush's insider trading, they need only type George W. Bush harken oil insider trading into their search engines and a number of accounts come up. I am sorry about the inaccuracies in my post but that can be easily remidied. with a google or yahoo search. Thank you.
Comment: #3
Posted by: robert lipka
Sat May 14, 2011 5:55 AM
Re: robert lipka

Care to share link to that public record?
Comment: #4
Posted by: WayneZ
Sat May 14, 2011 6:37 AM
@ Susan

Good article
Comment: #5
Posted by: WayneZ
Sat May 14, 2011 6:39 AM
Dear Wayne Z,
To read more about George W. Bush's insider trading simply type in the following in your Google or yahoo search engines:

George w. Bush insider terading harken oil

At least five articles detailing what he did and din't do will come up for you. a member of my family owned Harken oil stock at the time and was cheated by this insider trade. Insider trading is NOT a victimless crime. Some investor always gets burned by such schemes.
Comment: #6
Posted by: robert lipka
Sat May 14, 2011 6:41 PM
Re: robert lipka

Whoops spelling error in the above post that is :

george w. bush insider trading harken oil

Comment: #7
Posted by: robert lipka
Sat May 14, 2011 6:44 PM
I am liking Susan Estrich more and more these days. Fairly "non-political" yet informative on many "fronts". A nice change from the "right-left drumbeat" of American politico, Susan is finding a wider subject in "life experience" and authoring some insightful views. Very nice change of pace for both her and her readers I am sure.
Comment: #8
Posted by: TeeOff
Sun May 15, 2011 11:59 AM
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