This post has been updated.
A Morgan Stanley wealth manager will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because Colorado prosecutors don't want him to lose his job.
Martin Joel Erzinger, who manages more than $1 billion in assets for Morgan Stanley in Denver, is being accused only of a misdemeanor for allegedly driving his Mercedes into a cyclist and then fleeing the scene, Colorado's Vail Daily reports. The victim, Dr. Steven Milo, whom Erzinger allegedly hit in July, suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and, according to his lawyer Harold Haddon, "lifetime pain."
But District Attorney Mark Hurlbert says it wouldn't be wise to prosecute Erzinger -- doing so might hurt his source of income. Here's Vail Daily:
"Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it," Hurlbert said. "When you're talking about restitution, you don't want to take away his ability to pay."
"We have talked with Mr. Haddon and we had their objections, but ultimately it's our call," Hurlbert said.
Milo, who lives in New York City with his wife and kids, is furious about the dropped charges, Vail Daily says. The doctor's line of work, like Erzinger's, has been threatened by the incident. "His ability to deal with the physical challenges of his profession -- liver transplant surgery -- has been seriously jeopardized," Haddon, Milo's lawyer, said. Here's Milo, from the Vail Daily:
"Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway," Milo wrote. "Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case."
Reuters' Felix Salmon compares the dropped charges to the kind of financial invulnerability that bankers felt in the years leading up to the financial crisis:
No matter how egregious their behavior, financiers knew that they would end up wealthy and comfortable. That, in turn, made it much easier to overcome their natural risk aversion.
Erzinger has bought his way out of a felony charge, over the strenuous objections of his victim; it's very unlikely that online petitions will do any good at this point. Just another thing to add to the list of things that money can buy, I suppose.
The bicycling blog Abandon Your Car calls the incident "one of the most disturbing, and indeed disgusting, miscarriages of justice in my recent memory." The social action website Change.org started the petition that Salmon refers to.
Business Insider, for its part, defends Erzinger, saying that due to restitution payments, he "might be working for the rest of his life and giving much of his paycheck to the victim."
Morgan Stanley told The Huffington Post that they are aware of the situation and stressed that it was separate from Erzinger's professional role.
"This unfortunate situation was not related to the individual's professional activities, but we are continuing to monitor the situation and will cooperate fully with law enforcement, if requested," said a Morgan Stanley representative.
District Attorney Hurlbert did not immediately respond to a voicemail from HuffPost requesting comment.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told HuffPost on Monday afternoon that news reports about the prosecution have been inaccurate. "We charged him with a felony, first of all," he said.
What's happening is that prosecutors offered Erzinger a plea bargain for restitution and two misdemeanors potentially carrying two years of jail time. What the victim wants, Hurlbert said, is for Erzinger to plead guilty to the felony of leaving the scene of accident, causing serious bodily injury. Under that deal, judgment would be deferred and the felony would be cleared from his record after a few years of good behavior. The misdemeanors, though, would stay on Erzinger's record permanently.
"This is the right plea bargain given the facts of the case, the defendant's prior criminal history and his willingness to take responsibility," Hurlbert said. "We feel this is far more punitive than the felony deferred."
Hurlbert did not offer details on the restitution, except to say it would be "significant."
"As far as employment, in any case where there is significant restitution we certainly take that into account....but it is not the overriding concern. In this case it was not the overriding concern," Hurlbert said. He added that he'd received mixed signals about how a felony or misdemeanor rap would affect Erzinger's ability to do his job.
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.
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