I think much of the fascination of the mafia comes from the fact that they are so often genuine families, both in real life and in fiction (the “Godfather” films, “The Sopranos” on telly). Although many mafia groups actually have rules designed to guard against nepotism, it is as true in criminal lines of work as in legal ones that children will often follow their parents into the same job. Just as sons of soldiers and policemen often join the same services, because that is the life they know and the work they admire, so crime goes down the generations. And it’s not just the more manual criminal activities that are passed on – we’re starting to see the same trend in white collar crime.
When Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was finally unravelled, it turned out that it really was a family business. His sons Mark (who has since committed suicide) and Andrew, his brother Peter and Peter’s daughter Shana all worked alongside him – Peter as Chief Compliance Officer and Shana as the compliance attorney. How much they, and his wife Ruth, knew is still being unpicked; at the end of last month, Peter admitted conspiracy and falsifying financial records and was sent to prison for ten years. Working in a family business – crooked or straight – has its own special difficulties, as negotiations and decisions have a personal edge lacking in most working environments. Mark’s widow Stephanie has published her own account of the fraud, and in it she quotes from her late husband: “My own father has stolen my life from me. It’s pain that is beyond description. The business that I spent twenty-three years building gone, I am unemployed, my livelihood destroyed, and my family will forever live with the shame of what my father has done. There are so many victims of my father’s fraud, so many horrible stories. How do I explain to my children what I do not understand myself?”
A little closer to home, we have the Michels in Jersey. Papa Peter, an accountant, was found guilty in 2007 of money laundering, and his advocate son Justin was found guilty in 2011 of attempting to pervert the course of justice (by accepting assets from his father and falsely representing them as payment for legal services). The investigation was slightly complicated by the family connection, because it is more plausible that a father would give innocent gifts (i.e. not to launder them) to his son than to, for example, an employee or a lawyer not related to him. And the more recent case of Paul Ludden in Guernsey also has a family connection, albeit one in which the family member concerned was completely unaware of any criminality: with some of the proceeds his alleged theft, Ludden bought a diamond engagement ring for his son to give to his girlfriend. That’s one family that must be grateful that the father of the groom rarely speaks at weddings.