Jim Wares: Two Peas in a Pod

I learned that in our state, shoplifting, stealing property of a value not exceeding $200 can get you 30 days in jail and a $650 fine. If the stolen property happens to be valued at $10,000 plus 1 cent or more, jail time of up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine is on the table. I learned that the average lifespan of Americans is 81 years. Using these metrics, we learn the justice meted, the punishment for stealing something with a value of under $200 may equal 0.1 percent of a human lifetime. On the other hand, the punishment for stealing something with a value of $10,000 can be 12 percent of a human life. I offer no moral judgments here. I’m merely playing with the numbers … trying to find a baseline.

In March of 2009, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for defrauding people out of $65 billion. The justice meted Madoff is the equivalent of 183 percent of a human lifetime. Since there is no such thing as a 183 percent of a human life we need to proportionately reduce the metrics giving us the weird truth that the punishment for stealing $36 billion equals 100 percent of a lifetime and that the consequences for the remaining $29 billion are zero.

Granted, I’m just playing with numbers here. But something is being revealed about crime and punishment. If a person steals $200 and the punishment is 0.1 percent of an average lifetime, the extended value of that person’s lifetime is … $194,000.

But if a person steals $10,000, the extended value of that person’s lifetime is only $83,000. The extended value of Bernie Madoff’s lifetime comes to $36 billion. This suggests that it is presumed that Bernie Madoff’s lifetime is 433,734 times more valuable than the person who stole $10,000. This doesn’t bother me much because the Madoff case is so extreme and off the charts it becomes irrelevant to the equations. What’s not irrelevant is the difference between the person who steals $200 and $10,000 … the difference between 0.1 percent and 12 percent. It’s arbitrary. It makes no sense. There is no baseline. If there were some sort of congruity, some sort of relationship between the crime and the punishment, then the jail time for stealing $10,000 would be five years rather than 10.

Again, thus far I am not making any moral judgments. I’m just manipulating numbers. But now … I’m going to make a moral judgment …

Back in the 1980s I lived in a little town called Fort Mill, S.C. Directly across the highway from my home was the entrance to a 2,300-acre scam called Heritage USA, home of the PTL Club.

Heritage USA was a strangely wonderful place. It had a waterslide that at the time was the third or fourth largest in the world. There was a 501 room, five star hotel complete with doormen and valets in the uniforms of the Yeomen Warders or Beefeaters. There was an indoor shopping mall called Main Street USA. The ceilings of Main Street USA were painted sky blue with realistic looking clouds. The lighting was such that a person truly did have the feeling of walking down main street of any town USA on a beautiful spring day. There was the most comprehensive Christian bookstore I have ever visited, an outdoor venue named the Jerusalem Amphitheater hosted the most amazing production of “The Passion Play” I have ever seen. It had a skating rink, conference facilities, a 400 unit campground, television production studios, a Bible and evangelism school. In 1986 it hosted over 5 million visitors and employed 2,500 people … and … it had Jim and Tammy Faye Baker.

In the later part of the 1980s, a young church secretary named Jessica Hahn accused Jim Baker and another preacher, John Wesley Fletcher, of drugging and assaulting her. Baker and Fletcher denied the allegations and went about demeaning her character … then paid her $279,000 … out of PTL funds, for her to keep quiet. Subsequent reporting on the sexual misconduct led to other investigations into Jim Baker’s and Heritage USA finances.

It was discovered that Baker was selling “lifetime memberships,” “exclusive partnerships” and timeshares in units that did not exist. It was a massive fraud. Baker used the money to enrich himself and to keep the timeshare Ponzi scheme afloat.

Baker was indicted for eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and 1 count of conspiracy. He was convicted on all 24 counts and sentenced to 45 years in a federal penitentiary. It is estimated that he stole over $158 million from his supporters. In 1992 his sentence was reduced to eight years … two years less than the maximum jail time in this state for stealing $10,000 … or 9.8 percent of a human lifetime compared to 12 percent. He’s out now.

I began thinking about Jim Baker this week when I read a report in the April 9 edition of the Mexico News Daily about this guy who in 2006 sold $32 million worth of condo/hotel units that didn’t exist … except in an artist rendering. According to the report, the guy didn’t even have a legal right to build condos, or sell condos on the proposed property because Mexican law forbids foreigners from owning land in direct proximity of the Mexican coast line. The report also states the guy forgot to pay Mexico any taxes on the $32 million. This guy, like Jim Baker has also been accused of sexual misconduct …more than 20 times. He has also allegedly paid hush money to keep these allegations swept under the rug.

What has been the justice meted out for this behavior? None … he was given a key position in Washington, D.C. … the extended value of this guy’s life … priceless.

Recently, Jim Baker has publicly said that “God will punish those” who ridicule him, and that after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, God came to him in a dream wearing camouflage, a hunting vest, and a AR-15 rifle strapped to his back and told him that he supported a plan to arm teachers …

Go figure. This is all I have learned today.

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James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at whatjimhaslearnedtoday@yahoo.com