Insider trader: I don't need to go to prison

Former McKinsey & Co. CEO Rajat Gupta claims his sullied reputation is punishment enough

By Andrew Leonard

Published October 18, 2012 4:03PM (EDT)

Rajat Kumar Gupta   (AP/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)
Rajat Kumar Gupta (AP/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)

Pity poor Rajat Gupta. The former managing director of McKinsey Consulting and member of the board of directors of Goldman Sachs was convicted in June on charges of insider trading. Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of eight to 10 years. But Gupta's lawyers are arguing that the mere fact of Gupta's fall from grace is punishment enough!

From the New York Times:

Mr. Gupta’s lawyers argue that a lengthy prison term is unnecessary because Mr. Gupta has already paid a terrible price. They said that his reputation is in tatters given the intense media attention surrounding his trial. “This is the quintessential case of a monumental fall that is, in and of itself, severe punishment,” said the defense.

Most people convicted of crimes find their reputation in tatters. But only a few have access to lawyers bold enough to argue that this distressing change in status should constitute a get-out-of-jail-free card. Chalk it up as just one more piece of evidence proving that the wealthiest Americans simply don't believe the rules apply to them.

Gupta's plea to be allowed to go to Rwanda and perform community service instead of cooling his heels in the hoosegow brings to mind the reaction of Chris Hayes, the up-and-coming talking head who hosts MSNBC's Sunday morning political affairs talk show, to Tuesday's presidential debate, in which Mitt Romney repeatedly broke debate rules that had been agreed to by both camps

I thought the moment of the oil drilling, that debate to me was a key moment. The reason was this. Mitt Romney asked the president a direct question numerous times, kept interrupting him, “Isn’t it true? Isn’t it true? Didn’t it go down?” Now the rules for the debate, that we all got leaked, number five, subsection E: “The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates.”

Now, at a certain level, who cares, right? Who cares? Here’s why I care. The theme of the last ten years of this country is the people at the top have felt the rules don’t apply to them. And you send your people to sit down and negotiate a set of rules, and 20 minutes into it you throw it out the window. And everything we’ve seen, from the financial crisis to everything else that’s happened in this country, has been about the oligarchs and the ruling class and the people at the top feeling that they are not a party to the social contract. So some stupid little contract that was negotiated by your people, you don’t worry about.

A few years back, by the way, Mitt Romney mooted the idea of bringing in McKinsey to help him pick his cabinet, should he be elected president. The two men surely have crossed paths in years past. And why not? They belong to the same class. The class of people who operate in their own privileged reality, where a mere slur on their good name is as horrible a plight as a prison sentence; where rules are just an annoyance, to be dispensed with as the situation demands.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Business Goldman Sachs Insider Trading Mitt Romney Presidential Debates Rajat Gupta Wall Street