Other View: Dirty rotten scoundrels may finally be getting their due
Two high-profile criminal cases at opposite ends of the country are putting a much-needed focus on the legalities — or illegalities — of lying. Americans for too long have justified lying as a tolerable offshoot of the brash entrepreneurial spirit that spurred industry and created $2 trillion tech empires like Apple and Microsoft. Fake it till you make it became accepted as a legitimate route to success, as if duping investors was somehow admirable.
There’s no crime in articulating dreams and aspirations, no matter how inflated or unrealistic. It’s entirely a different matter to defraud investors, lenders or tax authorities by lying. In California, entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes found out the hard way that too much emphasis on faking it can lead to serious prison time. And former President Donald Trump could be in for his own rude awakening if New York prosecutors get their way.
Holmes, 37, founded a company called Theranos when she was only 19 and lured investors based on the promise that her technology could detect a wide array of illnesses with a simple pin-prick of blood instead of the expensive barrage of individual tests that typically are required to make diagnoses. Holmes’ grandiose claims of proven results led big investors to channel billions of dollars her way. Major personalities such as Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Henry Kissinger endorsed her as an inspirational figure for young women. A California jury found her guilty Monday on four counts of defrauding investors out of more than $1 billion.
In New York, prosecutors are closing in on Trump and his family members for a different kind of lying. Before becoming president, Trump was infamous for making wild claims about his own wealth. The numbers he cited were almost impossible to confirm, and the more he talked, the bigger his net worth seemed to get.
In a 2016 federal filing, Trump claimed to be worth more than $10 billion. The myth of Trump as a self-made billionaire inspired many working-class voters to swing to his side in 2016. Subsequent investigations, however, revealed him to be nothing but a big talker who was mired in debt. And that’s what got him into trouble.
When he was trying to convince big banks, including Germany’s Deutsche Bank, to lend him more money, Trump inflated the values of his properties and his own net worth. But when it came to filing his tax returns, Trump reportedly low-balled his company’s performance as a way of reducing his tax burden. The New York state attorney general’s office has subpoenaed two of Trump’s children as part of its ongoing civil probe, while a separate criminal investigation is under way by the Manhattan district attorney.
Americans should continue to celebrate visionaries who make millions or billions by turning big ideas into realities. But it’s also time to celebrate bringing lying hucksters to justice.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.