There was a little software problem when Bank of America acquired LaSalle Bank and the two were transferring account data. As a result, LaSalle depositor Ronald Page found that he could make unlimited ATM cash overdraft withdrawals, even though he had only $300 in his checking account. This tempting state of affairs lasted for seventeen days, and then from December 1, 2008 to May 31, 2009, Page gambled like a man on fire. Unfortunately for Page and Bank of America—but fortunately for several casinos—Page is a gambling addict. He withdrew, and gambled away, $1,543,104.00
Now the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit says he is seeking to send him to jail for 15 months after he pleaded guilty to charges of theft of bank funds. He is also going to be required to pay back the money, with interest, guaranteeing poverty for life.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question:
Is this fair?
I don’t think so.
I think he was a victim. In a normal situation, with a normal individual, I would conclude that he simply took advantage of a vulnerable source of cash, and engaged in voluntary and inexcusable theft. He knew that money wasn’t his. He had to know it was a mistake. His proper course was to alert the bank.
But Ronald is not a normal person. He is an addict, and has no impulse control when gambling is available to him. Presenting a gambling addict with a no-limits checking account is like filling an alcoholics swimming pool with vodka. Ronald Page didn’t have a chance. Before this episode, he had no criminal record. Almost any gambling addict could be converted into a felon by a mistake like Bank of America’s.
In tort law, the rule is that “you take your victim as you find him.” That means that the tortfeaser derives no sympathy from the law because a particular victim of negligence was unusually vulnerable. There are a line of cases called “eggshell skull cases”, where someone engaged in minor battery–thumping someone on the head without permission—and the victim’s skull collapsed, because it was uncommonly thin. “Too bad,” says the law. “You had no right to hit him, and you’re responsible for the results.” It was Bank of America’s negligence that caused this tragedy, because it presented a temptation to an otherwise law-abiding citizen which his illness made him unable to resist. Sending him to prison is unjust.
I’d suspend the sentence providing he gets treatment for his addiction and stays out of trouble for a few years. Meanwhile, Bank of America should swallow the loss. This was an eggshell bank account.
What do you think?
Pointer: James Taranto
Graphic: Kingdom Entrepreneur
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