How to buy your way out of a felony charge

By Felix Salmon
November 8, 2010

One of the main contributing factors to the financial crisis was the feeling of impunity and omnipotence which pervaded Wall Street. No matter how egregious their behavior, financiers knew that they would end up wealthy and comfortable. That, in turn, made it much easier to overcome their natural risk aversion.

Jon Hendry now points me to a very shocking real-world (non-financial) example of this. Martin Joel Erzinger is a star broker at Smith Barney, overseeing over $1 billion in assets for “ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations”. On July 3, Erzinger was driving his black Mercedes in Eagle, Colorado, and ran over a cyclist — New York physician Steven Milo — from behind:

Milo suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula, according to court documents. Over the past six weeks he has suffered “disabling” spinal headaches and faces multiple surgeries for a herniated disc and plastic surgery to fix the scars he suffered in the accident.

“He will have lifetime pain,” Haddon wrote. “His ability to deal with the physical challenges of his profession — liver transplant surgery — has been seriously jeopardized.”

Erzinger immediately drove away from the scene of the crime, eventually stopping in a parking lot on the other side of town, where he called the Mercedes auto assistance service and asked that his car be towed.

This kind of egregious hit-and-run is, obviously, a very serious crime. Milo is incredulous at the suggestion from Erzinger’s attorneys “that Erzinger might have unknowingly suffered from sleep apnea”, and wants Erzinger to be charged with a felony. Justice must be served: the case “has always been about responsibility, not money”, he wrote to DA Mark Hurlbert.

Yet Hurlbert, looking at Erzinger’s wealth, decided that the case really was about the money after all:

“The money has never been a priority for them. It is for us,” Hurlbert said. “Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it.”

Hurlbert said Erzinger is willing to take responsibility and pay restitution.

“Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it,” Hurlbert said. “When you’re talking about restitution, you don’t want to take away his ability to pay.”

In other words, Erzinger has bought his way out of a felony charge, over the strenuous objections of his victim; it’s very unlikely that online petitions will do any good at this point. Just another thing to add to the list of things that money can buy, I suppose.

22 comments

Comments are closed.