Forgotten Penalties

Most of the attention recently about public corruption has been focused on trials and the possibility of criminal penalties. Federal prosecutors have sent dozens off to prison at the state and local levels in recent years.

But that’s not all that wrongdoers face. If they’re licensed professionals in some capacity, they could lose their livelihood. Many professions, including law, have provisions that allow the professional authority to revoke a license if the licensee brings disrepute to the profession, are convicted of crimes or exhibit unethical behavior. James Laski isn’t only going to jail, losing his job and forfeiting tens of thousands of dollars; he has also lost his law license, meaning that when he gets out of jail, he’ll have to look for a whole new way to earn a living.

Even the retired can lose their future incomes. Word came this past week that Dean Bauer, one of the early poster-boys for all that was wrong with George Ryan's Secretary of State’s office, is losing his pension. His disservice to the taxpayers earned him 366 days behind bars plus two years of supervised release, and it will also now cost him his retirement pay for years to come.

Whether in the public or private sector, workers with corrupt bosses sometimes feel pressure to participate in illegal schemes or to look the other way. Although some government employees have a hard time resisting the pressure from above, awareness of the punishment received by those who have been caught -- including jail time and lost pension benefits -- may be all the incentive some need to behave ethically and even to report the ethical lapses of their bosses and co-workers.