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Another Day, Another Atlas Imprisoned
The word “tragedy” is generally misused, referring to everything from an act of war (9/11) to an act of God (the earthquake in Haiti). But today the word does apply: to the fall of Robert Moffat, formerly a senior vice president in charge of IBM’s hardware division and a good contender for becoming the company’s CEO. Today, he was sentenced to six months in prison for leaking confidential information to Danielle Chiesi, a consultant for the hedge fund New Castle, and, not coincidentally, Moffat’s mistress.
Why is that a criminal offense? According to Bloomberg News: “U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts told Moffat, who spent more than 30 years at IBM. ‘His astounding breach of his fiduciary duty to his employer is why he is here.”” Well, IBM certainly has strong case to sue Moffat for his breach of fiduciary duty. But what business is it of the federal government if Moffat violated his duties to IBM? He violated his even more fundamental duties to his wife, but the government is not threatening to imprison him for that. (In fact, to render Moffat’s tragedy more poignant still, his wife has stood by him.)
According to the same Bloomberg story, Batts said: “White collar crime is just as destructive to our social fabric as the crimes of drugs and violence.” But that is a meaningless comparison, because the term “white collar crime” is so broad as to be a conceptual grab bag. Many writers speak of Moffat’s crime more specifically as “insider trading,” but it really wasn’t, not in the customary sense, because Moffat never traded a share of stock on the basis of his inside information nor made a cent from anyone who did.
Apparently, what happened was this: Moffat became personally and then sexually involved with Danielle Chiesi. He sought to impress his lover by telling her confidential corporate information. She (allegedly, at this point) abused Moffat's trust by trading on that information, leading to the revelation that he had violated his personal and professional duties. That is a classic personal and familial tragedy, arising from hubris and leading to nemesis. But if Batts believes that such behavior is “just as destructive to our social fabric” as crimes of violence, then she is a greater menace to our social fabric than Robert Moffat could ever be.