Monday, November 7, 2016

Andrew Caspersen sentencing

Andrew Caspersen, a "scion" of Wall Street was recently sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding investors including friends, family members and a charity foundation out of $38.5 MM in a Ponzi-like scheme.

That sentence came out the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, as prosecutors have sought out a 15 2/3 years sentence.

Andrew Caspersen worked at Paul Taubman PJT Partners Inc before his arrest in March, Reuters reported.

Apparently, Judge Rakoff was swayed by arguments from the defendant's lawyer that Caspersen's addiction to trading stock options was "akin" to a gambling addiction. "In February, he made so much money that he could have payed back everyone and still had $60 MM left over." (NYT).

Unfortunately, this case again brings attention to an isolated bad actor in the finance industry. Already the finance industry is under intense scrutiny from regulators and the general public into example of "excesses" that all to often become the leading narrative. The [more than] 99% [to borrow the headlines] of finance workers are hard working individuals who work hard, have the highest ethics and morality and contribute to their community and constituency. Wall Street is the highest job generating engine that I know, its effects reverberating into the national economy on multiple levels.

When judging the fairness of a sentence, I look at:

  1. Background and priors/ recidivism.  No priors here.
  2. Length of the criminal behavior engaged in. We are told it was 18 months to detection (?) and arrest, which is medium, certainly falling short of a Madoff Ponzi. 
  3. Severity of the crime /impact. I'd argue it was severe. I'd give 50% weight on impact if it said most of the money lost was friends and associates. [That doesn't make it OK to steal from them !] Family and friends have an intimate knowledge of a subject, not available to outside investors. Breaking their trust is harder and also harsher. The moral turpitude of stealing from them is a heavy one. Breaking their trust is conduct that falls into some pathological model. A logical, reasoning human being driven by greed alone would likely abstain from fleecing his own family and associates. Mr. Caspersen's privileged upbringing is another reason where I can see pathology here. His higher station in life made his acts all more reprehensible.  
  4. What is the restitution or recovery probability. Mostly unknown [but unlikely].
  5. Age: 40 years old, could take a longer sentence on account of good health and youth. Age can be interpreted differently,  a younger age and the existence of a family can be argued for a lighter sentence for rehabilitation and reintegration in the society [wasting a productive life is often argued in courts] .
  6. Exemplary punishment need. Was it meant to set a strong message ? Certainly not.

You get your pick and you can actually make it into a math formula. Image result for check sign

Was it fair ? I think it gave Caspersen a break, but it was not necessarily fair to his colleagues and victims.

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