A statue, please, of Jeffrey Levitt. Or maybe a mere pedestal would suffice. In the Soviet Union, a man who so completely embodied national values would be proclaimed a hero and accorded a medal. But in the United States, a judge sentenced Levitt to the slammer even though, by all accounts, the man is the personification of contemporary American ideals. He can't stop spending money.
In fact, Levitt could not stop spending money even though a judge ordered him to stop. As the former president of what's left of a Baltimore savings and loan association, Levitt not only was indicted for allegedly stealing $14.6 million, but he is also being sued by the state of Maryland for $200 million. As a result, a judge first ordered Levitt and his wife, Karol, to limit their bank withdrawals to what was needed for ordinary expenses, and then ordered them not to spend more than $1,000 a week. They just couldn't do it.
They couldn't even come close. The Levitts lent and shifted more than $120,000 to businesses they control, but business, as they say, is business. The Levitts also paid for jewelry ($7,857), for country club fees ($1,042), for fixtures for a bathroom ($1,500), for still more bathroom fixtures ($3,281), for propane gas for the barbecue grill ($446) and for clothing for Mrs. Levitt.
The kids. Have we mentioned the kids? They had to pay college tuition, and so both boys got checks for $6,000 even though they had their own accounts at a stockbroker's worth $300,000 each? And of course, there were American Express expenses for the kids. That bill came to $1,836. (Do you know me? I'm Jeffrey Levitt's son.) There were also other country club fees, department store bills and even more credit-card expenses. One day Jeffrey Levitt wrote out 22 checks worth $5,500. With six days to go, he was already $4,500 over his limit.
Even facing jail for contempt of court, Levitt could not stop spending money.
I tremble to think about what this means for the future of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, the law requiring the eventual abolition of deficit spending. Here is Jeffrey Levitt faced with his own Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, and he just kept right on spending. Levitt said he did not think the judge's order applied to business expenses. President Reagan, not to mention Caspar Weinberger, thinks Gramm-Rudman-Hollings doesn't (or shouldn't) apply to defense spending. The Internal Revenue Service thinks it should not apply to it (after all, the IRS actually takes in money), and no one thinks it ought to apply to Social Security except maybe for Attorney General Edwin Meese III who thinks it is unconstitutional anyway -- maybe.
You might think that Jeffrey Levitt is unique, but his spirit actually infuses official Washington. Every year now, the president has called for a balanced budget and then submitted one that's out of balance. Every year, the president and Congress have said that spending has to be curtailed, and every year it isn't. The result has been the passage of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, but as a Draconian measure it is nothing compared with the jail term Jeffrey Levitt faced, and still he spent and spent. The judge gave him 18 months.
For this reason, there ought to be statues of Jeffrey Levitt all over Washington -- maybe one of him in a bathtub with faucets shaped like lion heads. He ought to be seen on horseback, a hat and a pigeon on his head. There ought to be a government office building named for him, a traffic circle, too, and every year schools would acknowledge Levitt by taking their students on a field trip to a shopping mall.
Barring a successful appeal, Jeffrey Levitt will soon report to jail, a martyr to American values run amuck. He is to spending what Paul Bunyan is to logging, and someday all Americans will honor his birthday. In its characteristic way, Washington already does. Here, every day is Jeffrey Levitt Day.