07/21/2011 01:50 pm ET | Updated Sep 20, 2011

No Wall Street Guys Go To Jail? Jerry Byrne Did. And Wrote A Book.

I was really flattered when Jerry Byrne asked me to write the script for a program of book awards. He's a very impressive guy, with a bio that just won't quit. CEO of Stagebill, publisher of Variety, a stint with Norman Lear -- you get the idea.

The program went well, and we moved on to a wave-and-a-smile-at-lunch at Michael's, the New York restaurant where media folk go to see and be seen.

But we hadn't spoken for a few years when I got an email from him on my Head Butler account suggesting that we meet at a bar on the Upper East Side.

I showed up on time. No sign of Jerry Byrne. Which seemed odd, because he had served as Marine in Vietnam. He had been decorated. He still carried himself with an impressive military crispness. No way would he be late.

And then a guy at the bar waved me over.

"Jerry Byrne," he said, as he shook my hand.

One letter different made all the difference. This man was certainly successful -- he did something on Wall Street -- and, like his namesake, cared about books. He'd written to me because he liked Head Butler and wanted to hang out with me.

I don't hang out. Still, we saw one another from time to time. One afternoon, he came up to our apartment to introduce us to his girlfriend, and she too was attractive and pleasant.

Then I heard he was going away.

And then I learned why:

Gerard Francis Byrne (CRD #1032847, Registered Representative, Short Hills, New Jersey) was barred from association with any NASD member in any capacity. The sanction was based on findings that Byrne obtained a wrongful extension of credit in violation of Section 7(f) of the Exchange Act and Regulation X promulgated thereunder. The findings stated that Byrne failed to post trades made in his personal margin account to the clearing firm, which caused his member firm's books and records to be inaccurate. (NASD Case #20050008469-01)

Recently, Jerry translated that for me:

While working for a small boutique broker-dealer, I had an alcoholic binge. In after hours trading one night, while all alone on the desk, I went "all in" on a stock that was falling sharply due to bad news. Well, I tried to catch the proverbial falling knife; sadly, the stock kept going lower and lower. And lower. I covered up the losses for a day or two, only to be eventually found out. The loss was substantial (approximately $245,000) and I was unable to pay. To this day, even though my sentence is behind me, I still have restitution to pay, and one day I will do just that.

Jerry Byrne is the rare Wall Streeter who has gone to jail, and gone there for a crime that involved less money than Lloyd Blankfein's chopper bill. While there, he kept a diary. He has edited it -- and self-published it. As a book, it needs an editor and a proofreader. As a document, "My Road Home: A 13 month journey from Wall Street to behind the walls of a NY State Prison" is fascinating: intimate, unsparing, and a very good reason to keep your nose clean. It should be required reading for anyone on Wall Street who is allowed to play with money.

Considering all the Wall Street criminality that will never be punished, Byrne's sentence may strike you as harsh: two-and-a-third to seven years. "Four hundred thousand it cost my family in legal fees to get a result I probably would have received if I had pled guilty at my arraignment," he notes as he is sentenced. But he has no time to think about that --- he is cuffed and led to a cell with twenty other prisoners, none of them Anglo-Saxon. Food. A cheese sandwich, and the cheese "is a color I have never seen before." The room smells of body odor, and it's just 11 AM.

You can be appalled. He can't. He resolves: "Forget everything you were used to." But he doesn't. Having trouble using his new PIN number to dial a pay phone, he accepts help from a kindly prisoner -- who promptly steals the number. Shame overwhelms him: for his parents, his five siblings, his two teenaged sons.

Time to go to Downstate, three hours north. This means shackles. And, when he gets there, confinement to his cell for 23 hours each day. Three showers a week, three minutes per shower. And then it's on to Mohawk, his home for... well, that's the question, isn't it?

He does what he can. Reads a book a day. Minds his own business. Seasons pass. He ignores the inane conversations: "Who is richer? Beyonce or Eddie Murphy?" He's not even surprised when his first parole application is denied.

Byrne writes vividly about his fellow prisoners. Some are decent, many not. And woe be to the sex offenders -- at night, they are humiliated and tortured for their crimes. It's all out in the open; you can't really turn away.

In the end, he's out in 13 months. Relieved. Repented.

On a TV drama written by David Mamet, a soldier is asked, "Do you believe people can change?"

"No," he replies. "But I've seen it happen."

That's the real story of this book.

[cross-posted from]

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