What penalty? This word penalty is thrown around way too much. There's a difference between not ranking and being penalized.
What I see, and what was mentioned in one of the conferences (I think New Orleans), is that if you get a burst of links it could be interpreted as a newsworthy but temporary event and you'll get a temporary boost. Temporary.
I'm certain there are other considerations to keep in mind re quality and neighborhoods, as well as if you are participating in triangular linking schemes, exchanging or receiving links from a closed network etc.