It’s time to forgive Mike with White House pardon

Jan 2, 2001 11:19 AM

IT’S TIME TO FORGIVE! Alexander Pope said it best: To err is human, to forgive divine.

If you buy into that theory ”” I do ”” let’s hope that Mike Milken is not overlooked for a Presidential pardon during Bill Clinton’s last days in the White House. The financier who revolutionized the world of corporate finance with his so-called "junk bonds" helped finance many upstart companies to success. For 30-plus years, Milken helped finance many companies including MCI, McCaw Cellular, Turner Broadcasting and ”” so close to home ”” Mirage Resorts. His financial innovation powered much of the economic growth in the USA. He paved the way for companies with bright ideas to put money in the cash register. Often it worked.

In the 1980s when Milken was developing his financial theories, I was trying to grow my own business and knew little about him. Did he defraud or not? I never took a side on the proposition. I didn’t have the time to care.

All that changed in recent years as I began to learn more about the convicted felon who paid a $47 million settlement to the Securities & Exchange Commission for allegedly violating "an order barring him for life from the securities industry." Looking back, they say that the 1980s was the Age of Greed. Isn’t greed an acceptable part of business?

Milken’s innovations made it possible for many companies to get out of short pants. A shot of cash was better than a dose of adrenaline. Profits followed. Milken’s "junk bonds" came to life. He found investors who were willing to come up with money on the possibility of a high yield. Instead of cash fees from the companies he helped, Milken often took a "marker" (stock) for his services. If the company flourished, he did what any smart bettor would do ”” he went to the cashier’s window and sold for a healthy profit. In reality, Milken sought out investors who liked the idea of winning a lumberyard with a toothpick.

Perhaps because he followed a different path to success, critics came out of the woodwork. The government launched a heavy probe. The establishment was delighted. It’s funny how so many successful people really can’t understand the success of others who employ different techniques ”” even though they may be legal ones. It is now believed that Milken ”” fearful that his younger brother, Lowell, would get caught up in the government hunt ”” accepted a deal. He pleaded guilty to five counts of misdoings. His brother went untouched. As a result of the deal, Milken went to prison.

When he was finally sprung, he discovered he had cancer. Last year in a Business Week cover story, it was reported that scientists "are convinced they’re close to unraveling the biological details. And, Milken has done more to advance the cause than anyone." His work is making a difference. And, the number of deaths from prostate cancer has declined steadily. The more I read about Mike Milken, the more I liked him. I never met the man and never had any contact with him. But, I like guys who fall flat on their face, pick themselves up and get back in the race. As Sinatra said ”” "That’s Life!"

Then came a story in the Wall Street Journal. It really turned my head. I learned that Milken’s prosecutor, the former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, had also become a Milken fan. Considering that Giuliani almost single-handedly prosecuted Milken, that said a lot. Moreover, it was learned that Giuliani would hope that Clinton would pardon Milken.

Why the change of heart? It could be called compassion. Giuliani dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in New York State because of his prostate cancer condition. Like so many victims of the disease, he quickly learned about CaP CURE, the association for the cure of cancer of the prostate founded by Milken. It is the world’s largest non-governmental funder of prostate cancer research. It is credited with doing more to advance the cause to cure the cancer than anyone.

All the energy and resources that made him a highly respected financier turned him into one of America’s leading philanthropists. He and his family have contributed more than three-quarters of a billion dollars to a wide range of causes.

In an age when almost everyone is forgiven for despicable actions, Milken rates a pardon. Certainly, Bill Clinton can understand that.

Finally, it says here, if he gets one, I hope he smiles again on Las Vegas.