They Like Mike : Punishment: Hundreds urge a judge to give junk bond king Michael Milken a light sentence when he comes to court Oct. 1. Only a few dozen letters were critical.


Hundreds of letters extolling the brilliance and humanitarianism of former Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond chief Michael Milken have deluged the federal court clerk’s office in Manhattan, all begging a judge to be merciful when she sentences him next month.

The letters are from former clients, colleagues, friends and family members. There is also a plethora of paeans from notable public figures.

U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood received pro-Milken epistles from such luminaries as Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates; Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles Roger M. Mahony; Occidental Petroleum Chairman Armand Hammer; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig; Time Warner Chairman Steven J. Ross; former Fonz and current producer Henry Winkler and his wife, and the guru of “supply side” economics, Arthur B. Laffer.


The consummate deal maker of the 1980s was also lavishly praised by another notable maker of bargains. Monty Hall, long-time emcee of the TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” sent a letter that was fairly typical of the many that praised Milken’s personal involvement in charitable activities. Hall recalled going along when Milken took a big group of disadvantaged youngsters to Universal Studios.

“I have seen him, on his way back from the buffet line, stop and notice that some of our disadvantaged children had not been fed,” Hall wrote. “He immediately gave them his tray and his children’s trays and got back in line again.”

Milken, 44, pleaded guilty in April to six felony counts, including securities fraud, conspiracy, mail fraud and criminal violations of tax laws. He is due to be sentenced Oct. 1 and could face up to 28 years in jail. He also agreed to pay $600 million in fines and penalties. The plea followed one of the most massive white-collar criminal investigations ever undertaken. Milken is said to have pleaded guilty to avoid being tried on many more serious charges.

Milken’s case files in federal court are bulging with so many letters, and are in such a state of disarray, that it is impossible to tell how many pro-Milken letters were received. More than 250 were listed on a docket sheet a few weeks ago, and the number may now exceed 300.

The brown folders also contain a few dozen letters that are considerably less sympathetic. J. B. Spence, a Miami lawyer, wrote to tell the judge:

“We believe that Michael Milken is a genuine criminal, beyond doubt, and should really spend the bulk of his life in prison. It will be incredibly disheartening to the American public if the sentence is a mere slap on the wrist. This thief deserves jail time and lots of it.”


But Dr. David W. Golde, chief of the hematology-oncology department at the UCLA Medical School, wrote: “I read several letters addressed to you vilifying Mr. Milken and suggesting that you render a harsh sentence based upon confused and emotion-charged reasoning . . . and vindictiveness bordering on blood lust.”

Golde, who knows Milken from his activities on behalf of cancer research, said: “I suggest, Judge Wood, that Michael Milken is not a criminal in the normal sense of the word.”

Common themes in the sympathetic letters were Milken’s involvement in many charities, to which he not only gave huge sums of money but also performed volunteer work. Several mentioned the math classes he teaches for disadvantaged and disabled children. They talk about his strong family values and his relatively modest, unmaterialistic lifestyle despite his vast wealth. And they talk about his “genius” at finance, which enabled him to come up with a new product--junk bonds--that provided growth capital for many small and medium-size companies.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard A. Adler, whose son received math lessons from Milken, wrote an unsolicited letter to Judge Wood. He said he had never met Milken face to face. But he said Milken’s philanthropic activities long predate the criminal investigation.

“I have sentenced many individuals who have found ‘religion’ at the last minute and began extensive charitable or community activities only a short time prior to sentencing,” Judge Adler wrote. “In Mr. Milken’s case, he has long established ties to charitable and community groups and does not need to undertake any last-minute efforts to impress the court.”

Steven Ross, the Time Warner chairman, wrote of his friend and adviser that “Michael is unlike any of the figures who have been caught up in the Wall Street scandal. He is no Ivan Boesky or Martin Siegel, no Gordon Gekko, no yuppie, no wheeler and dealer.” Gordon Gekko was the evil investment banker in the movie “Wall Street.”

Chief Gates, who is not noted for recommending lenient treatment for criminals, contended in his letter that it was not a “leniency plea.” He said he had met Milken and been impressed with his ideas for solving inner-city problems and his willingness to venture into dangerous neighborhoods to work on educational programs.

Gates recommended that as part of his sentence, Milken be allowed to establish a kind of domestic Peace Corps that would tackle inner-city problems. “I see a unique opportunity to use Michael Milken’s many talents to commence the development . . . of a model program here in Los Angeles, under court guidance,” the chief wrote.

One of the more impassioned letters came from Henry and Stacey Winkler, who wrote that “Michael is one of the most exceptional human beings we have ever met.” They wrote about his personal volunteer work at MacLaren Children’s Center in Los Angeles, a facility for abused and abandoned youngsters. They spoke of his ability to instill self-confidence in children who had grown accustomed to failure.

Milken’s lifelong friend, Judith Sherman Wolin, wrote a long letter, recalling incidents as far back as childhood that she said revealed an extraordinarily compassionate character. Wolin remembered that her fifth-grade class took ballroom dancing lessons, and that the boys were reluctant to dance with the girls.

“There was one boy--probably because he was the nicest and friendliest (and cutest)--with whom every girl wanted to dance. That was Michael. . . . I remember clearly that although he could have danced with only the ‘prettiest girl’ or ‘the most popular girl,’ Michael danced with every girl in the class--the skinny ones, the plump ones, the ones with glasses and with braces on their teeth . . . making us each feel special and important in the process.”

Especially in white-collar crime cases, judges frequently receive large numbers of letters on behalf of defendants who are about to be sentenced. Judges often say when passing sentence that they have carefully read and considered the letters. How decisive a role such letters actually play, however, is unclear.

In Milken’s case, prosecutors are expected to file a memorandum asking the judge to take into account evidence of many additional illegal acts, beyond the ones to which he pleaded guilty. Some are believed to relate to an alleged role in bringing on the national savings and loan crisis.

But Milken’s supporters are hoping that the judge will ignore that. Milken’s 92-year-old grandfather wrote to Judge Wood that “What I would very much like to live to see is for you to consider Michael’s many accomplishments to improve the lives of others.”