Dennis Levine, the 38-year-old father of two who was sentenced to two years in Lewisburg Federal Prison in Pennsylvania, made huge amounts of money from insider trading, but he didn't spend any of it.
That's why he had the money to pay a $12 million fine, he said Thursday during the annual two-day human resources seminar at Utah State University sponsored by the College of Business' Partners in Business program.Levine, whose arrest in 1986 ignited the Wall Street insider trading scandal, said, "No matter what they say, people know when they are doing something wrong. I did, but over time that conscience disappeared. Trading on insider information became an addiction."
Since serving 17 months of his sentence, Levine has become a business consultant and a consultant on business ethics.
When arrested, Levine was managing director of Drexel Burnham's mergers and acquisitions department and making more than $1 million annually. He said the daily exposure to large deals began to erode his judgment.
He engineered several of the biggest mergers of the 1980s and admitted that he was consumed by the world in which he worked. "Each success brought a new set of goals. The limits of my salary and my desire for more went beyond normal standards," he said.
"I'm not implying that drive and ambition are bad. The danger is in letting them subvert your values and common sense. I didn't know where to draw the line," he said.
Talking about his prison time, Levine said prison is designed to punish and in his case it did. His family suffered the most, he said.
"When I made the decision to cross the line, I didn't think of the effects. Of course, I thought I was smart enough not to get caught," Levine said.
While the incidence of white-collar crime appears greater, Levine said the incidence of white-collar crime is probably less than it was, but prosecution is more prevalent.
He believes unethical behavior occurs throughout society, not just in business, but the drive for profits can often put people in position to do things that may not be illegal, but are unethical.
"The manner of doing business on Wall Street is vastly different and there is more discussion of what is appropriate and what is not. There is more self-policing but it is all meaningless if the individual doesn't adhere to certain values," Levine said.
"I learned the hard way that you don't have to cut corners to achieve success. I deeply regret crossing the line and I feel fortunate to have a second chance at achieving balance in my life," he said. "Unbridled ambition cost me time with my family while I was working and while I was in prison."