Michael Milken, the former “junk-bond king,” will give what has been billed as a “stirring” talk at an event this Sunday for investors in Israel Bonds.
Milken’s speech for investors carries some historical irony, as it comes from a man who has been barred for life by the United States from taking part in any transactions in the securities and bonds industry — a consequence of his illegal activity as a bond trader during the 1980s.
The spokesman for Israel Bonds, Raphael Rothstein, emphasized that it was Carl Lindner, the night’s honoree — not Israel Bonds — who requested that Milken, a major owner of Israel Bonds, be the keynote speaker at the event. But Rothstein said that as no bonds will be transacted during the night, his organization had no qualms about including Milken.
“His speech is a message of solidarity, it’s not a financial message,” Rothstein said. “All Jews and the people of Israel should be very grateful to Mr. Milken.”
Lindner, who is the largest non-Jewish purchaser of Israel Bonds in the United States, declined to comment for this story. But Benito Romano, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Milken during the 1980s, largely agreed with Rothstein’s assessment.
“He made a mistake. He admitted it, and he paid,” Romano said. “I think that each community has to look into their own hearts and determine on the basis of their own values how that past will be weighed in the great ledger book.”
The ledger of good works since Milken’s release from prison is long. Health care research and educational projects have taken much of the $800 million that Milken has given to charities, but he also has sponsored Jewish institutions like the Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Awards and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.
Milken has developed a reputation as an aggressive philanthropist who closely oversees projects, in much the same way he directed struggling companies that he took over during the 1980s.
Even while rebuilding his public reputation through his philanthropic efforts, Milken continued to have run-ins with the SEC. An SEC investigation in the mid 1990s found that Milken was using philanthropic events to facilitate financial meetings between CEOs like Ted Turner and General Electric’s Jack Welch, for which Milken received multimillion-dollar commissions. Milken agreed to a settlement with the SEC, under which he paid $47 million.
Milken was the guest of honor at another Israel Bonds dinner in 1996, before his 1998 settlement with the SEC.
When President Clinton was considering Milken for a pardon in 2001, Richard Walker, the former head of enforcement at the SEC, wrote that Milken’s “continuing contempt for the law discredits any claim that he has learned from his mistakes and has been rehabilitated.”
Walker’s letter, which carried the day, was countered by a letter campaign from supporters of a Milken pardon, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who also was part of the legal team that prosecuted Milken in the 1980s.
Giuliani told the New York Post at the time that his “very personal reason” for requesting the pardon stemmed from Milken’s hand’s on approach to healing: “Michael Milken was very kind to me and very, very generous to me when it was revealed that I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.”