Aynur Bashirova

The Myth of Michael Milken

One of the most consequential “trials of the century” — at least in terms of its influence on New York’s financial industry —  was the 1990 trial of Michael Milken. Milken — dubbed the “Junk Bond King” by his critics — revolutionized financial markets with his championing of high-yield bonds during the 1980s, turning what was once a $10 billion market into a towering $1.4 trillion industry. This transformation provided essential capital to countless businesses, fueling their growth and innovation. Despite these contributions, Milken’s indictment on charges of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989 marked a turning point, culminating in a prison sentence of ten years, of which Milken only served two.

Once quickly dismissed as guilty by the public, Milken has had a fundamental reevaluation over the years. He is now recognized as a major financial revolutionary who was unjustly targeted, and a renowned philanthropist who has even contributed extensively across the world, including through a $10 million gift to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem Campus. So why the change in perception?

Enter Richard Sandler. In his book Witness to a Prosecution: The Myth of Michael Milken, Sandler — Milken’s lead attorney and close friend — tackles the complex and contentious saga of Milken, whose financial acumen was both groundbreaking and controversial.

Sandler’s book not only chronicles these events but argues forcefully that the charges against Milken were exaggerated or unfounded, delivering a striking critique of the interplay between finance, politics, and media that often muddies the waters of truth. He provides detailed accounts of the legal maneuvers and media strategies that shaped the public’s perception of Milken, pointing out that the prosecution was aware of the weaknesses in their case but pressed on regardless. He also offers a sharp analysis of how a prosecutor — in this case, Rudy Giuliani —  influenced by ambition and a media eager to condemn disruptors can alter the course of justice.

This work is not only an examination of the narratives that dominate high-profile financial legal cases but also a sobering look at the potential flaws of the American justice system. Sandler calls for a reassessment of how justice is perceived and executed in the public realm, pushing for a judicial process that remains unbiased by external pressures. Though Milken may not have received fair treatment in 1990, Sandler’s book serves as a reminder that there is still an opportunity to strive for a more equitable legal system today.

Sandler’s portrayal of Milken — from a vilified but revolutionary financier to a philanthropic force across multiple sectors including medicine, education, and the Jewish community — illustrates the capacity for individuals to redefine their legacies and contribute positively to society despite overwhelming adversity. Engaging and thought-provoking, Witness to a Prosecution: The Myth of Michael Milken is essential reading for anyone interested in the intersections of law, media, and finance.

About the Author
I am an independent consultant, researcher, and writer based in Brussels, focusing on writing, editing, translation, and communication strategy. My areas of specialization are Middle East, post-Soviet space, EU, security & defense, energy strategy, and geopolitics. What is more, I write fiction. My languages are Azerbaijani, Russian, Turkish, English, and French. I have two Masters' in European Studies (VUB, Brussels) and International Law (University of Kent, Brussels branch), as well as Bachelor's in International Affairs (VUB, Brussels). In addition, I have a certificate on Curriculum Development in Critical Contemporary Antisemitism Studies (ISGAP, Oxford).