Bernard Madoff, a man surrounded by billions of dollars over his long career now has a new number in his life: 61727054 – his inmate number. And it’s very likely, at 70 years old, he will be an inmate until the day he dies.
Now that the dust has settled on the country’s largest ever financial scam it’s time to take a look at the man himself and how the heck he got away with it….
In 1990 Madoff became head of the NASDAQ stock exchange but he isn’t so much a financier as he is a greedy criminal who used his connections to get people at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the only regulatory body that could have stopped him, to look the other way. The warning flags went up over Madoff’s scheme years ago but no one took action.
Part of the reason Madoff succeeded was the glittering gossamer cocoon of success he and his family spun around themselves. Potential investors were clamoring at the castle gate to be allowed in. Some claim Madoff offered them 30 to 40% return on their money and the dollars signs in their eyes blinded them. Many gave Madoff their entire life savings to invest. Now we know he never invested a penny of it.
When Bernard Madoff walked into federal court in Manhattan last week a large crowd of his victims was outside, bundled up against the icy winds. In contrast, Madoff wore no overcoat, hat or gloves, only one of his many custom tailored suits. It bulged at the front button from the bullet proof vest he wore in case one of his angry investors tried to exact revenge. He knew his next stop would be jail so Madoff had left his expensive watch and wedding band back at his 7 million dollar Manhattan penthouse. He was, in effect, walking naked in the street for all to see his shame. His life’s gamble had not paid off.
His trademark smirk was more like a lip pursing, shoulder-shrugging childlike expression of, “Gee, I got caught.”
Madoff admitted he had methodically bilked 65 billion dollars from thousands of investors plunging them, as well as charitable foundations, hedge funds and union pension funds into financial Armageddon. He knew it was criminal and he was “deeply sorry and ashamed.” He said he’d always, “realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come.”
No sympathy from me that he had to live his life looking over his shoulder from the deck of his 1.5 million dollar yacht!
Madoff set up his own sword of Damocles, a deadly instrument suspended over his head by a single horsehair. One quick movement could have brought the blade down. To suddenly stop stealing from others would have meant certain exposure. It wasn’t “impossible” to stop the Ponzi scheme, as he told the court, it was too lucrative for him to stop.
Madoff was a genius at the scheme he perpetrated. But he’s a stupid man who failed to calculate the end result. He wasn’t just risking his freedom. He hasn’t just destroyed himself and his gullible clients. He has also destroyed any future for his two 40-something sons and his elderly brother who worked with him. He told the court the rest of his family never knew of his massive deceit. I don’t believe that. And now, who in their right mind would ever want to conduct another financial transaction with anyone named Madoff? What will they do for a living?
And, a massive federal investigation has now targeted Madoff’s 67 year old wife, Ruth, a woman definitely used to the finer things in life. Investigators have begun proceedings to separate her from the more than 90 million dollars found to be held in her name. How will she support herself in the end?
I wonder if there were nights when Madoff laid his head down on his 800 thread count pillowcase and realized that his opulent life was really a dead weight around his family’s neck. Probably not. He likely figured, at the age of 70, he’d gotten away with it and his massive crimes would die with him. He might have slept at night with the special contentment that comes from knowing you’ve more than provided for the people you love.
But they are ill-gotten gains. What Bernard Madoff leaves his family is a legacy of shame. The money he brought in doesn’t belong to his family. That would be like the bank robber who, upon returning home from a heist, gives his bag of loot to his wife and then maintains it isn’t his money – it’s hers!
It doesn’t work that way. I say justice comes only after the Madoff family is stripped of its wealth and the money is divvied up amongst the victims.