One of the most discouraging aspects of the societal tide of resentment and scapegoating that has permeated the corporate criminal prosecutions since the demise of Enron has been the utter lack of perspective regarding the horrendous human cost of those prosecutions.
Even the horrendous financial cost of those prosecutions seems easier to confront.
A stark example of the human cost is what happened to Ken Lay’s family, who endured the decline of a loving father and grandfather as he defended himself against dubious charges that in a less-heated climate would likely never have been pursued.
Equally barbaric is the reprehensible 24-year prison sentence assessed to former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, whose family has been deprived of their father for over three years now and is threatened to be without him for most of the rest of his life.
But the family that arguably paid the steepest cost from the wave of unjust corporate prosecutions was the family of Jamie Olis, the former mid-level Dynegy executive who was thrown to the prosecutorial wolves by his employer and then sentenced to a ludicrously excessive 24 plus-year prison term for his involvement in a structured finance transaction for which he profited not one dime.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately threw out that sentence, which resulted in a still-too-harsh six-year re-sentencing. Olis was finally paroled last year and reunited with his wife and young daughter, who literally grew up visiting her father in prison.
But even in the face of such inhumanity, the human spirit perseveres.
Throughout the Olis family’s ordeal, Jamie’s father — Bill Olis — stood out as a rock of stability and common sense.
Whether it was attending the myriad of hearings in Jamie’s case in Houston, or escorting Jamie’s wife and daughter the hundreds of miles to visit Jamie in far-off prisons, or lending moral support to other families who were enduring similar injustices, Bill Olis projected a sense of calm perspective that was contagious to all who came in contact with him.
He had much to be bitter about in regard to what the federal government did to his son and family, but Bill Olis never gave in to bitterness. He was a quintessential Christian gentleman and nothing that the government did to his family could change that.
Throughout his son’s darkest times, Bill remained confident that he and his family would ultimately be reunited with Jamie. Yeah, the government is powerful, but no earthly force was going to destroy Bill Olis’ family.
As a result, Ellen Podgor of the White Collar Crime Prof Blog re-named her “Collar for the Best Parent Award” to the “Bill Olis Best Parent Award” because — in the category of a parent supporting an imprisoned child — “no one comes close to Bill Olis.”
What was not well known through all of this was that Bill Olis was slowly fading away physically during his son’s imprisonment. Bill had an oxygen unit with him almost constantly as he tended to his family’s needs throughout their ordeal.
No big deal for Bill. Mere failing health was not going to stop Bill Olis from being present when his son was released from prison last year. He was there embracing Jamie with the rest of the family, oxygen tank and all.
With the work of reuniting his son with his family done, Bill Olis died over this past weekend. I understand from a family friend that Jamie was able to spend most of Bill’s final two weeks with him, which I know Bill enjoyed immensely. He adored his son.
The Olis family story is a remarkable one and frankly far more interesting than the government’s dishonest case against Jamie.
Years ago, Bill Olis married a single Korean mother and adopted her young son. He provided his wife and son a stable and loving home, and the family flourished. His son excelled in school, obtained advanced degrees in both business and law, and embarked upon a successful career in corporate finance.
And when the government targeted the son as a sacrificial lamb for the anti-business mob, Bill Olis spent his last days in this world supporting his son every step of the way and making sure that he returned to his wife and daughter.
Then he passed away.
A Christian minister friend once observed to me that a good way to embrace what is good about the Christian spirit is through understanding the nature of adoption.
Bill Olis was living proof of the truth of that observation.