Kirsti's Reviews > Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff

Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart
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's review
May 19, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: anger, business, cake-eaters, greed, hissy-fits, history, journalism, mayhem, nervous-breakdowns, nonfiction, politics, wish-it-had-been-fiction
Read in May, 2011

Examination of what perjury is, why it’s difficult to prove, and whether it’s becoming more widespread. The author looks at four recent cases: Martha Stewart, “Scooter” Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernard Madoff.

I didn’t think I would care about the Stewart case, but this account was riveting. The papers mostly portrayed it as two rich people (Stewart and her broker) believing they could do whatever they wanted. And it was about that, but it was also about Stewart’s assistant and the broker’s assistant--two intelligent and not-at-all-rich people who decided that they would not lie, no matter what the cost.

As so often happens with trials, small details apparently had a pivotal effect on jurors. The defense lawyers contended that Stewart’s assistant was jealous of her and acted hatefully, but it’s hard to believe that about a woman who breaks down and sobs uncontrollably on the witness stand when reminded of her boss’s Christmas gift (a plum pudding).

The defense lawyers pointed out that Stewart and her broker were highly intelligent, successful, driven people. So why couldn’t they get their story straight? The broker’s assistant makes an astute guess: Neither Stewart nor her broker could listen worth a damn. It’s a fact that they met secretly before the charges came down, but they most likely spent that entire meeting talking past each other.

Oh, and the stock that Martha dumped? It turned out to be a winner. She would have made an additional $10 a share (and stayed out of prison) if only she’d held onto it.

Some quotes from this very interesting book:

About the Libby case: “Remarkably, it didn’t occur to anyone at a White House purportedly focused on national security that identifying a CIA officer might be a breach of security.”

Patrick Fitzgerald about the Libby case: “If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice or perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.”

Barry Bonds during testimony: “I was born in this game. Believe me, it’s a business. Last time I played baseball was in college. I work for a living now.”

Bonds explaining to the jury why he didn’t do much to reward his trainer, who went to jail rather than testify against him: “I’m black. And I’m keeping my money. And there’s not too many rich black people in the world. . . . And I ain’t giving my money up. That’s why. And if my friends can help me, then I’ll use my friends.”

Judge William Alsup, on jailing Bonds’s trainer for contempt of court: “We will wait and see how loyal he wants to be to someone other than his government, his country.”

“Well, she’s gonna be my wife. I guess I have to let her have one.” –Bonds, explaining to his girlfriend that another woman had just moved into his house and that he would probably have another child at some point. The girlfriend continued dating him until years later and broke up with him only when he threatened to kill her.

Nat Simons, a hedge fund manager, in an email years before Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed: “Not only are we unsure as to how HCH makes money for us, we are even more unsure how HCH makes money from us; i.e., why does [Madoff] let us make so much money?” Simons got his fund’s money away from Madoff.

It’s been estimated that Madoff’s fraud directly affected 3 million people and contributed to the worldwide economic collapse. And that’s important. But I was more interested in the fact that he owned three boats, called Bull, Sitting Bull, and Little Bull. Talk about a finger in the eye!

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