Topic: Business & Commercial

Stupidity is Unethical

The Rigas family, which prosecutors say systematically looted Adelphia of hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for ridiculous luxuries like 100 pairs of bedroom slippers, appears to be embracing a plea of incompetence. Call it “the stupidity defense.” 79 year old company founder John Rigas, the Chairman of the Board, is being painted by his attorneys as unaware of what was going on at his company, even though his own sons were taking a major role in running it. His sons, Timothy and Michael, who were also high up in the Adelphia organization chart, are also basing their defenses on their not being entirely “on the ball.”

Whether this will work for the Rigases, who are charged with charges of securities fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud, is doubtful. The family’s profligate ways sent Adelphia into bankruptcy after it was revealed that the Rigases had borrowed 2.5 billion dollars from the company; this was in addition to the millions the family had spent on items like $700,000 in golf club fees and $10,000 to obtain the perfect Christmas tree.

Even if the stupidity defense works in court, however, it hardly changes the ethical verdict. Whether a ship captain runs his ship into an iceberg because he was careless, destructive or didn’t know how to steer, he failed in the responsibility he had been trusted to complete. Competence is seldom thought of as an ethical value, but it is one…a crucial one, in fact. Taking on a difficult task that one is incapable of doing well, or staying in charge after one’s abilities have diminished, are both betrayals of trust. Stupidity may be of some value as a defense where criminal intent must be proven, but it is also a damning admission for the captains of a multi-billion dollar industry.

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