Sunday, August 11, 2002

Millions stolen; Why isn't case closed?

        I have been friendly. Polite. Even obsequious. Still, nobody would answer my question.

        FBI agent Walter Wright could tell me only that he could not comment on an “ongoing investigation.” Why has this investigation been going on so long, I asked. Bill Hunt of the U.S. Attorney's office could not say.

        “But in general, I'd tell you that we're working hard to get the whole story,” he said.

        The Feds have been looking at Richard Zenni since 1999. Mr. Zenni is reportedly talking to them. But he is not talking to me. The phone company says “at the customer's request, the number is non-published.”

        A tax lien against Mr. Zenni lists a post office box, so I don't know where he is. But he is not at his desk at PaineWebber. They have probably burned his desk and fumigated the office. He really stunk up the place.

        “Mr. Zenni has been terminated by PaineWebber in connection with his inappropriate handling of an account,” read a statement from the brokerage firm's New York office in 1999. “If it is determined that an account has been affected by Mr. Zenni's conduct, PaineWebber will compensate it.”

        Which they did, according to spokesman Paul Marrone. “But that's about all I can tell you.”

        Actually, it was not “an account.” It was nine accounts belonging to elderly investors, mostly from around here. Richard Zenni filed for bankruptcy in 2000, listing his former clients as creditors with the notation next to each name, “Money wrongfully taken.” Delicately put. Right up there with “inappropriate handling.”

        The amount of money wrongfully taken and inappropriately handled was $2,865,000.

        In an unrelated matter, the Green Township cat burglar, Jason Patchell, is probably looking at 15 years in prison. He admitted Tuesday that he went into several unlocked homes and wrongfully took whatever struck his fancy, including money and power tools. If he had a chance, maybe he'd like to talk it over for three years. Meanwhile, maybe he'd like to sleep in his own bed. But that's not the way we treat burglars.

        On the other hand, let's say somebody admits he “wrongfully” took nearly $3 million from elderly investors. Heading the list is Sam Ginsburg, whose death in 1999 caused his attorney, Michael Boylan, to inspect the estate. The lawyer discovered $1.2 million was missing from the 95-year-old man's brokerage account. I guess his 85-year-old widow thought this was inappropriately handled.

        Phillip and Nazy Ritter, whom Mr. Zenni listed as “wrongfully” losing $500,000, had no children of their own. Mr. Zenni showed them photos of his children.

        “He seemed very nice,” Mrs. Ritter said.

        Let's say we live in a country where we promise that justice is blind 1/2ndash 3/4 that she doesn't really pay attention to the color of a person's collar when they commit a crime.

        Let's say the authorities have known for three years that a serious crime has been committed. I just wanted to know why they wouldn't try to put someone in jail.

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