Blinded by the light of wealth and success, some well-off individuals have made foolish decisions to maintain or amass wealth and they’ve suffered harsh consequences because of their errant desire to have it all. We’ll look at ten of the world’s richest individuals behind bars; some of these wealthy criminals were even granted freedom and a second chance, and refused to learn their lesson. After learning of their unfortunate fate, we can’t help but think that these individuals should have realised that prison is the great equaliser, and your money means nothing when the state takes away your freedom.
While money can buy a lot, it can’t (normally!) buy you independence from the law. Get caught in criminal activity and even these billionaires have to face consequences. The criminals on our list have bank accounts that indicate success, but unscrupulous characters and reputations that represent the opposite. These wealthy and powerful individuals failed to realize the value of self-control and discipline after they reached the pinnacle of their career; having joined the ranks of the world’s richest people, these criminals became embroiled in illicit schemes that would lead to their downfall.
So, let’s take a look at these former billionaires and millionaires who once basked wealth, and whose personal histories took a nasty turn after their unlawful acts and poor decisions caught up with them.
10. Jordan Belfort – Lost $100 million
Jordan was once a multi-millionaire reaping massive success as a stockbroker. He had everything he wanted in life, including the much-coveted luxury of spending apparently limitless money as and when he wanted. Belfort was making an estimated $250 Million a year when he was 25 years old thanks to his stock broking firm, the Stratton Oakmont. The money dried up, though, after Jordan was found guilty of money laundering and fraud. He lost his multimillion dollar fortune and was forced to relocate from his luxury living quarters to a prison cell for two years. He had to pay back at least $100 million in ill-gotten gains. Jordan Belfort’s notoriety did bring him fame; he wrote memoirs on his criminal past, one of which was adapted by world-famous director Martin Scorsese.
9. Kim Dotcom – Lost $17 million
German-Finnish larger-than-life Kim made his millions as an online entrepreneur. He’s famed for founding the file-sharing online service Megaupload, which is believed to have cost the entertainment industry hundreds of millions in pirated content. He’s been consistently making headlines for his shady online dealings – his convictions date back to 1994 when he was found guilty of fraud and data espionage. The law seemed to catch up with Dotcom every step of the way, though, and eventually in 2012 he was arrested for charges including online piracy and conspiring to commit copyright infringement. At that point, $17 million was seized in assets alone.
8. Raj Rajaratnam – A $92.8 million fine
This Sri Lanken former billionaire made his money through the Galleon Group, a hedge fund management firm that was known to manage about $7 billion before it closed its doors in 2009. The firm closed abruptly in October that year, when Rajaratnam was arrested under suspicion of insider trading. In 2011 he was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years behind bars, and was ordered to pay an unprecedented $92.8 million penalty. His prison sentence was believed to be the longest in the history of insider trading: Rajaratnam’s greed lost him his freedom, and a substantial portion of his estimated $1.5 billion fortune.
7. Allen Stanford – Worth $2.2 billion, imprisoned for 110 years
Allen Stanford will see out his life in prison, after being sentenced to 110 years for his role in what was described as a ‘massive Ponzi Scheme’. The Texan once was the Chairman of the Stanford Financial Group, leading a financial conspiracy that aimed to deceive investors. Stanford’s scheme robbed investors of $7 billion. Stanford’s story is an unhappy one; during his time in prison he sustained serious injuries after a violent assault from a fellow inmate and is now partially sighted.
6. Wong Kwong Yu – Billionaire serves 14 years
He once had a net worth of up to $6.3 billion, and he served as the Chairman of GOME Electrical Appliances. This firm was a one of the leading and most popular electrical appliance chains in China. IN 2008, Wong was investigated for stock market manipulation and he was is now serving a 14 year jail sentence for his crimes. How much of a hit his wealth took is unclear, and there are no reports of a fine, but he’s not likely to enjoy his billions for the next decade.
5. Chey Tae Won – Lost $300 million
Chey Tae Won was chairman of the renowned South Korean conglomerate, SK Corporation – which is primarily involved in the energy, petroleum and chemical industries. He was well-known for securing funds to build the Ulsan Grand Park, a major urban park located in South Korea. But this millionaire was indicted in 2012 for embezzling nearly $45 million from several SK companies. When he was found guilty, he landed a 4-year prison sentence by the District Court of Seoul and eventually resigned as the corporation’s chairman. It is also worth noting that Chey once spent 7 months in jail in 2003 when he was found guilty of accounting fraud. In 2008, he was pardoned from this legal case, but he reportedly lost about $300 million of his fortune due to his run-ins with the law.
4. Michael Milken – Philanthropist spends 2 years behind bars
Michael Milken was a financier, known for his philanthropic work including the famous Milken Institute Global Conference, which was designed as a forum for scholars to discuss social and economic issues. Milken was also Knowledge Universe’s chairman, operating thousands of preschools throughout with about 40,000 employees. This American attained massive success from his high-yield bonds, but he spent 22 months in jail on several charges including insider trading, racketeering and fraud charges. He was released 1993, but is still under investigation on suspicion of violating the terms of his ban from the securities industry.
3. Alfred Taubman – A $7.5 million fine
Alfred was a Michigan-born philanthropist and real estate developer, best known for creating the modern shopping mall concept. His company Taubman Centers own some of the most popular shopping malls in the United States. Alfred was sentenced to 10 months in because of his involvement in price-fixing scam between Sothebys and Christies in the early 2000s. He was charged $7.5 million for his participation, labelled as ‘anti-trust violations’.
2. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev
Once Russia’s richest individuals, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev had a net worth of $15 billion. They previously led the infamous Yukos Oil, but have been in prison since 2003 because of legal cases including tax evasion and fraud. The two were set to be released from jail in 2011, but they were convicted again in 2009 for embezzlment and money laundering. There have been accusations that the scandal and arrests were politically motivated. At this sentencing in 2010, Khodorkovsky famously said ‘I am far from being an ideal person, but I am a person with ideals. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in prison, and I do not want to die here.
But if I have to, I will have no hesitation. What I believe in is worth dying for. I think I have shown this.’
1. Bernie Madoff
American stockbroker Bernard ‘Bernie’ Madoff has gone down in history as the instigator of the largest Ponzie Scheme in history. Given the volume of high-profile arrests on the back of Ponzi Schemes, you’d think these clever businessmen would have learn but apparently, greed too-often wins over sense; at least, this was certainly the case for Madoff. With an estimated net worth, now, of -$17 billion (yes, MINUS $17 billion!) Madoff had been worth about $800 million in his hey day. As founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in 1960, Madoff became the leader of one of the top Wall Street market makers employing close family members in key areas of the firm. In a Hollywood-worthy twist of fate, Bernie’s sons sold him out to authorities when he confessed to them that the firm’s asset management was a massive Ponzi Scheme. In 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty and was charged to 150 years in prison. Investments in the firm totalled over $17 billion, but less than $3 billion is available for repayment. In a tragic end to this stunning tale of deception, Madoff’s son Mark committed suicide after his father’s arrest – while his other son, Peter, was also imprisoned for his involvement.
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