Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project

Greenwich, Connecticut

The Overlooked Victims of White Collar Crime
by Andrew Schwartz – Guest Blogger

Andrew Schwartz is a friend & classmate 
from Union Theological Seminary.
A recent conversation in his office at
the seminary led to this important guest blog.

It’s easy to vilify white-collar criminals. Post the crash of 2008, the country cheers in unison when a banker or broker gets what is coming to them. Before 2008, the country either knew or didn’t care about white-collar crime, or they stayed mostly ignorant to the crimes that occurred on Wall Street. 

But in our post-2008 financial crash world, most all Americans know that bankers and stock brokers are criminals, and we Americans are ready to see justice done to them.

While this sentiment is justifiable, we must not let our lust for justice (revenge?) cloud our ability to differentiate between the criminals and their victims. In particular, we need to remember that the victims of these crimes are not simply the ones who were defrauded or stolen from. We must also remember the family members of the white-collar criminals: the wives and children of these men. 

More often than the not it is not just the banker or stockbroker who is punished. It is their whole family. On the heels of the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Christina McDowell, formerly Christina Prousalis, daughter of Tom Prousalis who was a former business partner of Jordan Belfort, wrote a scathing open letter to anyone who would listen. In the letter, she describes what it was like to be an eighteen-year-old girl who was unwittingly made complicit to a series of crimes her father had committed but that she had nothing to do with. 

Unbeknownst to Christina, her father had taken out multiple credit cards and opened several bank accounts in her name to use her as a front for his seedy dealings. When the DOJ came down on him, she was caught up in the tumult and came out on the other side, destitute and nowhere to call home.  She spent years putting her life back in order and now lives in relative anonymity in California. 

Ms. Prousalis is representative of countless others whose only crime was being family with a criminal. It’s something she couldn’t control, let alone stop. It is the same story for so many different wives and children who must deal with the repercussions of their husbands/fathers sins. The criminal’s fate is but for their family members there is often nothing but questions. Almost always, wives who share bank accounts and titles to their home(s) with their now convicted husnadas have their share of the property taken from them as well. The courts choose not to differentiate between the holdings of the husband and wife, quickly leaving the wife with very little. 

In one fell swoop, the life they once knew is gone and it is now up to them to make due with what little is left to the mother to make a life for her and her children. As is unfortunately typical with white-collar crime, the families of the convicted are alienated and shut out of the communities they once belonged to. The friends they once had will no longer speak with them and the church they once frequented no longer welcomes their membership. Mother and children are left alone to find their way by themselves in a world that now no longer cares for them or their well-being.

They deserve it, we tell ourselves, and we secretly revel in their fall from grace. But this is not justice and it is not right. If the wife and children were in cahoots with their criminal father in his criminal activities, then we should place the whole family into custody. Instead, we imprison them in our way through public disgrace and by placing them in the poor house. If the wife and children are truly innocent, though, then it is our duty to insure that they are treated like victims and not criminals. 

We should work to help them transition from their old life into a new one, and be willing to provide mental, emotional, and spiritual support along the way. As Christians, we are called to be with being when they are at their lowest, and to commune with those that the rest of society has deemed unworthy. It is a radical style of love that asks us to look beyond our comfort zone and to welcome “the least of these” into our lives, regardless of who they are or where they are coming from. It is a transcendent love that is willing to extend a hand where no one else will and say, “Welcome, you will find rest here.” 

Andrew Schwartz is a writer and blogger who focuses on
 social justice and interfaith relations. As a Christian Agnostic,he works to find common ground for justice between the religious and religious. A graduate of Union Theological Seminary, he is a staff blogger for the Huffington Postand is currently working on a book project.
You can follow him on Twitter @schwartzajs.
Lisa Lawler left this comment on Sunday evening, Feb. 17, 2014:

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I was a white collar wife and my son and I will forever have to live with the severe repercussions of having our lives pulled out from under us by the thoughtless mid-deeds of my ex-husband. I’ve been writing a book about our experience for the past few years and hope to finally finish it this summer. I’ve also written a survival guide for white collar wives and will hopefully also have that published as a companion piece. My goal with my book has always been to take it on the road to companies large and small in hopes that our story might serve as a cautionary tale. I started writing a blog a few months ago but as so many women suffer guilt by association they mainly seem to be in hiding and I’ve had no interaction. I do hope my book will help flush them out and bring them back into the light. Thank you for remembering that wives and children are victims too. Readers can find my blog @ White Collar Wives Club.

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