Wall Street fiddles while America burns

In the midst of Wall Street's agonizing slide, there was at least one place in Manhattan where the liquor was flowing, the cigar smoke was billowing and the theme of the evening was simple: Work hard. Play hard.

"It's like fiddling. Nero fiddled while Rome burned," said Thomas Graf, vice president and producer of Northmarq Capital. "We're smoking cigars while we're losing our shirts, literally."

He was among hundreds of mid-level Wall Street executives and traders gathered for a party thrown by Cigar Report magazine. "It is a great time," said Adam Marsh of Empire Capital Partners. "I think for at least a couple of hours in the evening, we can kind of sit back, have a few drinks, forget what's facing us on the Street tomorrow."

Nearly all did very well, they say, at the top of the Wall Street bubble. And their bosses, along with those who managed Wall Street hedge funds, did even better.

"These guys were spending more than $250 billion a year," Robert Frank said. "They bought mansions in Greenwich and Palm Beach. They bought art for $100 million a painting." Frank, author of "Richistan," says the enormous amounts of money earned by Wall Street elite made them practically a nation unto themselves.”

One prominent example is the CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld. In 2007 alone, according to the executive compensation firm Equilar, he earned total take-home compensation of more than $45 million in salary and bonuses. Congressional researchers said he earned nearly $500 million from 2000 through 2007.


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