Michael Robert Milken (born July 4, 1946) is an American former financier and philanthropist. He is noted for his role in the development of the market for high-yield bonds (“junk bonds”), for his conviction following a guilty plea on felony charges for violating U.S. securities laws, and for his charitable giving.
Milken was indicted for racketeering and securities fraud in 1989 in an insider trading investigation. As the result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to securities and reporting violations but not to racketeering or insider trading. Milken was sentenced to ten years in prison, fined $600 million, and permanently barred from the securities industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. His sentence was later reduced to two years for cooperating with testimony against his former colleagues and for good behavior.
His critics cited him as the epitome of Wall Street greed during the 1980s, and nicknamed him the “Junk Bond King”.
Supporters, like George Gilder in his book, Telecosm (2000), state that “Milken was a key source of the organizational changes that have impelled economic growth over the last twenty years. Most striking was the productivity surge in capital, as Milken…and others took the vast sums trapped in old-line businesses and put them back into the markets.”
Since his release from prison, Milken has funded medical research. He is co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, chairman of the Milken Institute, and founder of medical philanthropies funding research into melanoma, cancer and other life-threatening diseases. A prostate cancer survivor, Milken has devoted significant resources to research on the disease. In a November 2004 cover article, Fortune magazine called him “The Man Who Changed Medicine” for changes in approach to funding and results that he initiated.
Milken’s compensation, while head of the high-yield bond department at Drexel Burnham Lambert in the late 1980s, exceeded $1 billion in a four-year period, a new record for U.S. income at that time. With an estimated net worth of around $2 billion as of 2010, he is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 488th richest person in the world.