John L. Smith, Tainted Money, And The Ethics Of Charitable Giving

Gambler Billy Walters was sentenced to five years in jail last month for an insider trading scam that involved Dean Foods.

He will go to jail for five years. But before his sentence, more than a hundred of Las Vegas' most powerful people wrote letters urging the judge to give him a lenient sentence. The list includes former Senator Harry Reid and almost every living former mayor of Las Vegas.

Why? Because he gives a lot of his money away. To politicians, to be sure. And to charities, who are afraid for their bottom lines.

But what are the ethics of charities accepting money from people whose methods for attaining money are shady? As John L. Smith pointed out, Walters had been indicted three times before - though never convicted until this time. Still, he was a widely sought after donor.

"What you're talking about is a guy who... has a lot of connections to powerful people. This is a guy who has gotten the best deals from city and county government for his golf course projects. Some of those are controversial," Smith said.

But Walters also has raised a disabled son. And the non-profits he helped included one to get child prostitutes off the street.

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"This is really reflective of a kind of Las Vegas that has existed forever," says John L. "Moe Dalitz was considered a one to one contemporary and colleague of Myer Lansky and Murder Inc., but he comes to Las Vegas and gets cleansed and becomes B'nai B'rith man of the year and is known for his philanthropy."

There's also the case of U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne, who went to prison for tax evasion in a case involving a brothel owner.

"But what happens. He does his time. He comes back. He has all the friends in the legal community, and he gets his law license back.

"So that's Nevada. That's really the Nevada story."

Still, when the prisons are filled with people of color who did nothing more than having two ounces of marijuana in their backpacks, it seems jarring that every rich, white person in town is coming to the defense of a guy who was convicted on a $43 million scam, from which he profited $32 million.

"Oh, if the powerful were as half as kind to a common criminal," says John L. "Think small, and you'll spend a lot of time in prison."

Walters, John L. says, thought big. And it may have paid off. According to CNBC, along with his 5-year sentence, Walters was ordered to pay a $10 million fine. That leaves him with a $22 million profit from the very scam he was convicted of.

That may be good news for the people and organizations that benefitted from his largesse.

"I can't believe that Walters will stop giving to his favorite charities," said John L.



John L. Smith, contributor

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