On the front of our Business section today was a photo of a former Bear Sterns hedge fund manager, Matthew Tannin, being helped into a car by a federal law enforcement agent. This is what is known among journalists as the "perp walk." Perp being short for perpetrator.
This is the occasion, after an arrest is made, when the accused is being taken from one place -- like a lockup -- to another place -- like a courthouse. Or maybe from the courthouse to another place. This is usually the best opportunity for photographers to get pictures or video of the perp.
In high profile cases, the perp walk takes on special symbolism. It conveys a message from law enforcement: We got him. We are on the case.
In cases of white-collar crime, it has taken on an even greater significance. It is law enforcement's way of sending the message that even though the accused may be a millionaire and a big-deal executive, he is going to be treated like a common criminal.
There is nothing that focuses the minds of big-shots on Wall Street like the sight of a former colleague being marched in handcuffs past a swarm of cameras by federal agents. Sometimes the federal agents actually walk into the big Wall Street firms and march the accused right out of his office, in front of co-workers.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, when he was a federal prosecutor, is said to have raised the executive perp walk to an art form. Prosecutors have increasingly used the threat of a perp walk in negotiations with targets of their white-collar investigations. Here's a good article on the history and nuances of the technique.
One thing that you have to keep in mind when you see photos or videos of Big Shots being perp walked is that -- in the end -- the government still has to prove the case. The guy that you see being cuffed and put into the back of a car probably has a battery of $700 an hour lawyers at his disposal, who will go up against federal lawyers who do not make $700 an hour. Try $60 an hour. There is a good chance that the perp being walked today will never see the inside of a prison cell when all is said and done.
The feds know this, in the back of their minds, which may be one big reason for the handcuffs and the cameras. Because even if the accused win in court, they'll still have to live down the images of being perp walked being seen on CNN by everyone who went to high school with them.