Work-Release Would Free Caged Executive Talent

He's 64 years old. He's a convicted felon with a shaved head. He's locked up in prison. And even with the nation's unemployment rate at 9.1%, he can still find a job.

Too bad Dennis Kozlowski can't get work-release. The former Tyco (NYSE:TYC) CEO, convicted of looting his shareholders, has lined up work as "director of former offender instructional solutions'" for a company that provides job training to ex-cons. In a recently filed lawsuit, he argues the New York state prison system has unfairly denied him work-release.

This is a guy who spent $6,000 on a shower curtain, $15,000 on an umbrella stand and $17,000 on a toiletry case. He can only be good for the economy.

Kozlowski's case is a window into the vast array of executive talent wasting away in America's prisons. Here are more examples:

- Richard Scrushy, former HealthSouth Corp. CEO, is locked up in a federal pen in Beaumont, Texas, convicted in a bribery scheme with former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. His release date is slated for June 8, 2013. He ranked among the highest-paid CEOs in the nation with earnings of $106 million in 1997. He'd work for less now. Obamacare can't cut health-care costs, but work-release sure can.

- Timothy Rigas, former chief financial officer of cable TV giant Adelphia Communications Corp., is locked up with his 86-year-old father, John, in Butner, N.C. John has a release date of Jan. 23, 2018. Timothy has a release date of June 3, 2022. Plenty of time to help average Americans finally decipher their cable bills.

- Samuel Israel III, who ran a fraudulent hedge fund and then ran from justice, is in the same pokey with the Rigases. He is due to be released Aug. 30, 2027. His flight from authorities in an RV was even less successful than his financial career, but he probably learned enough about camping gear to work at Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops.

- Bernie Madoff, the infamous Ponzi schemer, is also in Butner with a release date of Nov. 14, 2139. Can you imagine how problems at the Social Security Administration might magically disappear over the next 150 years if we let Madoff out of his cell for a few hours a day to mail out the statements?

- Bernie Ebbers, Worldcom founder, is serving time in a federal pen in Oakdale, La., until July 4, 2028. One of the world's largest accounting scandals doesn't have to end his gig as a Sunday school teacher with a little work-release.

- Joe Nacchio, former CEO of Qwest Communications International, now CenturyLink, is serving time in Pennsylvania until May 14, 2014. Nacchio, convicted of insider trading, loaded Qwest will billions in debt until the roof fell in. Perhaps he could get a work-release job helping Congress with its debt ceiling.

- Jeffrey Skilling, former Enron CEO, incarcerated in Englewood, Colo., until February 21, 2028. He's got an MBA from Harvard Business School. He was partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He's still the smartest guy in the room, but without work-release, it's a very small room.

- Conrad Black, media baron and member of Britain's House of Lords, was released from prison in Florida on July 21, 2010. He's now headed back after a hearing in Chicago last week. He'd been out on bond as his appeal went to the U.S. Supreme Court. But he was re-sentenced last week for defrauding investors in Hollinger International Inc. He says he's the victim of an overzealous prosecution. He spent his time in prison writing a new memoir called "A Matter of Principle." Now he needs work-release to promote it.

- Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is heading to prison after a second trial on allegations he tried to sell President Obama's U.S. Senate seat. Work-release would allow him to become a celebrity pitchman. Spirit Airlines has already gone Blago in a recent online marketing campaign: "We are guilty of selling seats but we don't expect to serve time." And, "We've got these fares, and they're f--ing golden."

- Sholam Weiss, the New York businessman convicted of looting $125 million from the National Heritage Life Insurance Co., still resides in the federal pen in Canaan, Pa. Weiss is due to be released Nov. 23, 2754. He was originally slapped with 845 years in 2000--the longest white-collar prison sentence ever. Weiss would be able to accomplish just about anything on work release. He has nearly a millennium to do it.

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at or