Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dr. Richard Kimble is Ashamed of Him

Americans hate crime, yet have a sneaking admiration for fugitives from justice. Butch and Sundance, D.B. Cooper, even Robert Vesco-the list of persons, real or fictional, who became celebrated for going on the lam from the law is longer than the law's mythical arm.

So on June 9, when big-time financial swindler Samuel Israel disappeared after leaving his car on a bridge over the Hudson River in one of the most transparently fraudulent suicides ever staged, I think I speak for my fellow citizens when I say my reaction was, "Go for it, man! See you in Rio!!"

Israel was not exactly a war criminal. He defrauded clients of his hedge fund, meaning if they were widows and orphans, they were really rich ones. It was pleasant to spend off moments in June imagining where Israel might be, whether it was sunning on Copacabana, playing baccarat in Monte Carlo, or alternatively, furtively pulling down the shades in a cheap hotel room by the tracks with a neon light blinking outside the window.

Israel surrended to the authorities yesterday (boo!). He had been living in a RV park in Granville, Massachusetts. Is there such a thing as negative style points? Give Israel's runaway all of them.

The Internet doesn't have enough space to list Israel's failures here. Start with the obvious-geography. When fleeing the New York area by motor vehicle, there is much more space to get lost in headed west instead of east. Leaving the Hudson River valley to hide in the Connecticut River valley bespeaks a certain lack of imagination, especially for a crook whose gig was fraud.

Then there's the little matter of Israel's accomplice. He used his girlfriend, and then, to cap the blunder, left her behind. Israel must be the only person on earth never to have seen an episode of "Law and Order." The girlfriend, left to her own devices, ALWAYS gets busted and rolls over on her criminal significant other.

On the surface, an RV is a good choice for a hideout. Americans associate those vehicles with a) bumpkins, and b) old people, two demographics they do not find threatening. A "Let Me Tell You About My Grandchilden" bumper sticker would have been a nifty disguise accessory. Israel probably could have driven his Winnebago of crime on a leisurely trip across the country to someplace like North Dakota to cross the border into Canada. Let me assure you, they wouldn't have been looking for him there.

The problem, of course, is that at current gasoline prices and mileages, Israel would have spent every penny of the $20 million he stole by the time he reached Indiana.

The U.S. marshals service, which did not apprehend Israel (score that one for the officer on duty at the Southwick, Mass police station), made the expected noises to the effect that this caper shows that going on the lam is a fruitless endeavor and they always get their man. That, to be polite, is self-serving bullshit. Any number of 1960s radicals spent decades on the FBIs 10 Most Wanted list while living in plain sight in suburban USA, until turning themselves in out of guilt and/or boredom. None of them had $20 million to help them hide, either.

No, as crooks and fugitives go, Samuel Israel was a flop, a bitter disappointment to an ignoble but entertaining American tradition. Which begs one obvious question.

Just how @*^&#! stupid WERE his victims, anyway?


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