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By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com

Q:As the probe deepens into alleged bid-rigging at Marsh & McLennan, the talks have turned to the possible settlement figure. Some are pegging a starting point of $500 million, and many claim that could rise as Spitzer's claws sink deeper into M&M. Where do these settlement and penalty moneys go? Are they put into the N.Y. coffers for future investigations, distributed to consumers, or is this actually how the Yankees cover their payroll? — Matt F., St. Louis

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A: Our far-flung, supremely capable research staff has painstakingingly explored this question in detail and returned with this insightful and conclusive response:

It depends.

Sometimes, these actions result in “fines” which are paid to the general fund, just like a traffic ticket. Other settlements call for the creation of a “restitution fund” which is supposed to return the money (the “ill-gotten gains” in Mr. Spitzer’s parlance) to those who were unlawfully separated from it. The SEC has set up a number of these funds in fraud cases. Some settlements include both fines and restitution. Some of these settlements with the government are also followed by class action lawsuits seeking additional payback.

The problem with paying the money back, though, is that it’s extraordinarily difficult to “unscramble the egg.” If I bought insurance through one of these brokers and they steered me to an insurer solely because they got a kickback, how much, exactly, did I lose? Worse, how do I prove it? In the end, any restitution formula will probably include some payment to people who can prove they dealt with one of these companies during the period under investigation. But the paperwork involved will likely chew up a sizable chunk of any settlement. (As always, the bureaucrats and lawyers get paid first.)

As for your final question: yes, if some of this money eventually flows to the New York state general fund, and George Steinbrenner succeeds in his quest to get taxpayers to build him a new stadium (freeing up more cash from ticket sales and TV contracts to go buy a better pitching lineup), the Marsh & McLennan scandal could well shape the course of baseball history.

So maybe you Cardinals fans should tell Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon to start looking for industries to sue. After watching this year’s World Series, it looks like you guys could use some help.

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