Take note, Bob McDonnell: 9 financial criminals who made good after prison

January 9, 2015, 6:34 PM UTC
Bob McDonnell,  Bobby McDonnell
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, center, is mobbed by media as he gets into a car with his son, Bobby, right, after he and his wife, former first lady Maureen McDonnell, were convicted on multiple counts of corruption at Federal Court in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. A federal jury in Richmond convicted Bob McDonnell of 11 of the 13 counts he faced; Maureen McDonnell was convicted of nine of the 13 counts she had faced. Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Photograph by Steve Helber — AP

In “My Lost City,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.” Virginia’s former governor Bob McDonnell is about to find out if this axiom applies to him. On Jan. 6, he was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of “trading favors in return for $177,000 in loans, vacations and gifts,” according to The New York Times.

It would seem that a prison sentence for this type of crime would disqualify him from re-entering polite society. However, recent history suggests that this is not always the case.

For decades, public figures have committed financial improprieties, been sent up the river and then emerged full of beans and ready for act two. Many choose to live low-profile versions of their former lives, but their stories are far from over. In fact, a lucky few have even picked up where they left off, like nothing had happened.

Fortune presents a list of 9 famous and infamous ex-cons who McDonnell may want to take notes on. They may be models for him to follow in 2017.

1. Jack Abramoff

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, center, leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., after entering a plea agreement on three felony charges. His attorney, Abbe Lowell, appears at right. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Before becoming known as a character in a black fedora, Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist who represented Native American tribes and casinos. In January 2006 he pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to corrupt public officials.

He served three and a half years and upon his release took an $8-an-hour job as an accountant at a pizzeria, according to The New York Times. He next wrote a book called “Capitol Punishment,” which The Washington Post called “a 300-page account of his political triumphs, serial lawbreaking and unethical conduct.”  He has since appeared as a guest on “The Colbert Report,” and today he can be hired for the public speaking engagement of your choice.

2. Edwin Edwards

Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards answers a reporter's question as Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter grins on in front of the Carter home, Friday, Aug. 20, 1976, Plains, Ga. (AP Photo/Peter Bregg)

When people talk about “colorful” Southern politicians, there’s a good chance they’re talking about former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards. He served four terms between 1972 and 1996, and was dogged by accusations of corruption the entire time.

In May 2000, he was convicted of racketeering, extortion and fraud, according to The Orlando Sentinel. His prison sentence ended in 2011, and two years later, he and his wife Trina became the stars of the A&E reality show, “The Governor’s Wife,” which focused on the pregnancy of his wife Trina, who is over 50 years his junior. Apparently, he wasn’t kidding when he said that the only thing he and 1991 gubernatorial rival and former Klansman David Duke had in common was that they were both “wizards under the sheets.”


3. John Jenrette

Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr., D-S.C. holds a glass donkey as he stands with his wife Rita outside the Capitol in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 1976. Recently married to the North Myrtle Beach Representative, Rita Jenrette once worked for the Republican National Committee. (AP Photo)

People of a certain age will remember former Democratic congressman John Jenrette who was married to Playboy model Rita Jenrette. He was also involved in the ABSCAM scandal, an FBI sting operation in which numerous U.S. politicians were videotaped accepting bribes. Jenrette was one of them, and according to The Washington Post, he served 13 months in prison as a result.

After his scrape with the prison system, Jenrette did time as a lawyer and in public relations. In 2010, he told The Washington Post that he was working at a relaxed pace, splitting his time between Florida and Myrtle Beach, S.C. “I am very blessed,” he said.

4. Charles Keating

Lincoln S & L operator Charles Keating. (Photo by Thomas Ives/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Charles Keating was an anti-pornography crusader and an adept swimmer, but he’s best known for running Lincoln Savings and Loan, which sold junk bonds to elderly clients, thousands of whom lost their life savings when the parent company went bankrupt. In December 1991 he was found guilty of 17 counts of securities fraud, according to The New York Times.

In October 2000, the conviction was overturned when lower court rulings found that the judge in the original case had allowed a “flawed prosecution,” according to The Los Angeles Times. He celebrated his newfound freedom by moving in with his daughter and becoming a business consultant, according to CBS News, and he later became involved in real estate development in Phoenix, Arizona.

5. Michael Milken

056720 06: Michael Milken stands November 2, 1988 in CA. Milken was the target of a ninety-eight count criminal indictment and a civil case filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly violating federal securities and racketeering laws. (Photo by John Barr/Liaison)

Along with Ivan Boesky and others, few people embody the “greed is good” ethos of the go-go 1980s like Michael Milken. In April 1990 he pleaded guilty to six felony counts of securities fraud, in what The New York Times called “the biggest fraud case in the history of the securities industry.” But as he languished behind bars, his greatest achievement still lay ahead of him.

He served 22 months in prison, and when he emerged in 1993, he founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which The Wall Street Journal called “"the largest philanthropic source of funds for research into prostate cancer.” In 2004, he was profiled in a Fortune magazine article called “The Man Who Changed Medicine.”

“In the time it normally takes a big pharmaceutical company to bring a single new drug to market, Milken has managed to raise the profile of prostate cancer significantly, increase funding dramatically to fight the disease, spur innovative research, attract new people to the field, get myriad drugs into clinical trials, and, dare we say, speed up science,” the article said.

6. Bob Ney

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 19: Former Representative Bob Ney of Ohio, left, and his attorney Mark H. Tuohey, enter the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Jan. 19, 2007 for sentencing. Ney, 52, pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to accepting gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including a lavish golfing trip to Scotland, in return for legislative actions. (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bob Ney was an Ohio congressman best known for two things – replacing French Fries with "Freedom Fries" on the House of Representatives food service menu, and trading political favors for money and gifts. In the case of the latter achievement, he pleaded guilty and received a 30-month prison term, which he served alongside “Survivor” star Richard Hatch, who was incarcerated at the same facility.

Ney was released after 17 months and went to work writing a memoir with the less-than-gracious title “Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill.” According to Time magazine, the book dishes on some high-profile political figures, including House Speaker John Boehner, whom Ney called "a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker.”

7. Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart has spent the last several decades lording over the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia homemaking empire. However, it all could have gone very differently when she was convicted on four counts of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators about the sale of ImClone stocks. Would a prison sentence damage her brand?

Stewart survived her period of incarceration without getting stuck with a shiv by a fellow inmate, and emerged a free woman in 2005. She immediately got back to work, returning to daytime television, releasing a new cookbook and appearing on the television show “Ugly Betty.” Basically, the entire sordid affair had no effect on her whatsoever, or on Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which took in $161 million in revenue in 2013, according to SEC filings. So there.

8. Sam Waksal

Sam Waksal, the ImClone Systems founder who tumbled from his hobnobbing lifestyle in an insider-trading scandal, talks to newspeople, Wednesday, July 23, 2003, at the entrance to the Pennsylvania federal prison in Schuylkill County. Waksal reported to the minimum-security prison Wednesday to begin serving a more than seven-year prison term _ becoming the first chief executive to do time in the recent wave of corporate scandals.

Martha Stewart wasn’t the only person tainted by the ImClone insider trading scandal. When the company’s founder and CEO, Sam Waksal, learned that its stock was about to plummet in 2001, Stewart was advised to sell her shares; one insider trading trial later, he was shipped off to Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institute in Minersville, Pennsylvania.

Waksal was released in 2009, and in that year, he founded Kadmon Pharmaceuticals. According to the company’s website, “Kadmon has pioneered a new approach to the traditional biotechnology model by building, from inception, a vertically integrated company comprising innovative drug discovery platforms, a deep clinical pipeline and a commercial operation with specialty pharmaceutical products.”

9. R. Foster Winans

Foster Winans: The notorious former Wall Street Journal writer; sentenced to jail for profiting on the stock market from advance knowledge of what would appear in his column; is the first to admit he breached the ethics of financial journalism.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In the case of former Wall Street Journal columnist R. Foster Winans, it can be criminal. Winans used the insider information he received for his column to play the stock market, and was convicted of insider trading and mail fraud. He admitted as much in a 2007 opinion piece in The New York Times.

"I was convicted of using advance knowledge of the content of my columns for The Wall Street Journal to make money in the stock market,” he wrote. “I stole from my employer.”

Today, Winans is a free man, as well as president and chief creative officer of Winans Kuenstler Publishing. The “About” page on its website describes him as “a veteran book editor, book writer, book publisher, and ghostwriter who is the author, ghostwriter, or editor of more than forty books.”


Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.