(Adds comments from survey author Ragatz) What are the wages of sin -- if the sin is getting caught ripping off friends, family members or private investors who trusted you?
Try nearly a million dollars, on average, for a year -- according to a Main Line professor's review of a dozen post-Madoff pyramid-schemers convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison.
Julie Ragatz, director of the Center for Ethics in Financial Services and assistant professor of ethics at American College, the insurance and investment school in Bryn Mawr, compiled the numbers from court records and news accounts.
Individual sentences varied, sometimes a lot. Terence Mayfield of Phoenixville, convicted in 2009 of duping members of a Toms River, NJ church into buying investment real estate -- and pocketing the proceeds or paying it back to other investors as if it were profits -- was sentenced to 8 years in prison for stealing nearly $1 million.
By contrast, Broomall investment manager Joseph Forte, who falsely told clients he'd turned their $35 million into profitable investments, while instead giving away big chunks to his son's prep school and other high-status causes, was sentenced to around five months per million.

Some of those convicted had previously clean records; that's part of why they were so trusted. By contrast, Philadelphian Robert Stinson, who got the longest sentence in the group -- 33 years, for stealing $14 million from homeowners, falsely promising high returns, and using the money for family-related businesses and other personal ends -- was a repeat offender: It was, as Ragatz noted, Stinson's fifth fraud conviction.

Cooperative and apparently repentant perpetrators, like Forte, may also get lesser sentences than those who refuse to work with prosecutors, like Chester County's Donald "Tony" Young, convicted of bilking his horsey-set neighbors of $23 milion, and sentenced to 17.5 years, as my colleague Harold Brubaker's reporting shows.


"There is a consistent standard," but results vary partly due to "public outrage" and other factors, says Ragatz, a Temple University philosophy PhD candidate (she's writing the intellectual history of the "efficient markets" hypothesis under Prof. Miriam Solomon). Ragatz heads the Cary Maguire Center for Ethics in Financial Services at American College in Bryn Mawr and also teaches classes at Villanova University's masters of accounting program. 

Why did Mayfield get hit harder, given the size of his fraud? He was convicted of "going after an affinity group," appealing to victims on the basis of shared identity -- as Bernard Madoff did in Jewish and other compact communities. "I think that strikes society," and judges, "as more egregious," than purely financial frauds, Ragatz said. But should it? "We want our judicial system to respond" to our outrage -- yet we also expect justice to hold to impartial standards and avoid "emotional revenge." 

It's as if scammers who target groups held together by a social or moral purpose are somehow worse than those who prey on our everyday desire for profit -- as if using ethical or religious or community values are more important than purely material motives, and exploiting them makes it somehow worse than straight stealing.

"The financial servcies industry in particular is a hodgepodge of transactions and personal relationships," she added. Nadoff got the book thrown at him, not just because of the unprecedented multi-billion-dollar size of his steaing, but also his exploitation of community and usiness networks, and the government's apparent "need to be gbig and bold to rectify the harm and damage done" to the government and its reputation after it failed to stop Madoff earlier.

Are scammers punished more in tough economic times? "There's heightened sensitivity," but you'd need "a lot of data" to prove sentences have increased, Ragatz concluded.