Wednesday, December 11, 2013

And a very Ponzi fifth anniversary to you, Bernie Madoff

Hard to believe, but it was five years ago today that Bernie Madoff was arrested.

Ah, what a gift to business bloggers everywhere that bad boy was!

In “honor” – dishonor? – of his anniversary, Bernie agreed to meet with a WSJ/MarketWatch reporter at his big house digs in North Carolina. Apparently, he doesn’t get much company, given that his wife and surviving son don’t speak to him, and his other son committed suicide. His brother Peter got swept up in the scheme, and he’s also in the stir. Peter doesn’t speak to Bernie, either. But despite all this, old Bernie is not exactly full of remorse. In fact,

…Mr. Madoff pointed fingers at others and said his decades-long Ponzi scheme wasn't really his fault….it was clear from the outset that he wanted to justify the actions that resulted in his 150-year prison term. He said he felt "trapped" into the con by other people and always thought he would be able to get himself out of it. (Source: WSJ Online.)

So, if Bernie’s not mea culpa-ing, who’s on the receiving end of his tua culpa?

Well, first off, there were his stinkin’, no good, serves-them-right investors, who:

… he said, were "sophisticated people" and should have known better.

Okay, perhaps ‘sophisticated people’ should have known that something was up when they were getting so many happy returns – far happier than they would have gotten elsewhere.

But somebody has to beat the market, no?

Isn’t blaming his clients kind of like blaming the store for having its shelves stocked with items worth stealing? Of blaming the a murder victim for standing in front of the gun?

Banks were also the culprit.

He insisted banks knew about his fraud and were complicit in the scheme for years.

Well, it’s certainly easier to blame banks than it is to blame investors. And, sure, maybe if they’d had better safeguards in place, the fraud might have been uncovered sooner. Still…

Auditors are also on his list. And it’s absolutely the case that if they’d had their green eyeshades screwed on a bit tighter, they might have found the scheme out. Still…

Bernie also notes – with what I can assume is stunning narcissistic hubris – that:

One factor that allowed the Ponzi scheme to continue for so many years, he said, was that he had a lot of credibility in the industry. He dropped names and talked a lot about the old days, when he was among Wall Street's trading elite, sitting on industry committees and hobnobbing with a financial-services Who's Who.

Those were the days, eh, Bernie, when you were who’s who-ing it up in your bespoke suits and fancy-arse cufflinks? Now you’re wearing prison issue beige polyester.

While Bernie is happy to give plenty of blame, he’s not quite as willing to give any credit.

Harry Markopolos, who tried to blow the whistle to the SEC is, in Bernie’s words, “an idiot” who was whistling the wrong tune.

Bernie did – sort of – come to the defense of his employees, insisting that, other than Frank DiPascali, none of them were wittingly involved in the fraud.

Thanks, boss!

Madoff reminisced a bit about when he first realized that the jig might be up.

Mr. Madoff recalled one of the first moments he sensed that economic conditions in 2008 could be fragile. He was at the Palm Beach Country Club in Florida, he said, and he had "a young black kid" for a caddy, and the caddy was buying and selling homes.

Palm Beach Country Club. Good times, good times.

"He said he didn't need credit. He would buy homes and flip them for a profit," Mr. Madoff recalled. "I told my wife, 'This is the end.' "

The end of the housing boom would be a contributing factor in the collapse of his fraud, as many investors began seeking to cash out as the economy stalled and financial assets sank in value.

Darned those house-flipping caddies…

Meanwhile, fellow inmates and prison guards are always looking to Bernie for advice on their investments. In fact, the cons wanted the con to teach Investment 101, but the screws wouldn’t let him.

So no more fancy travel, no more multiple homes, no more Rolex watches, no more Palm Beach Country Club, no more Wall Street Who’s Who. And, what with the prison system not letting him rebuild his little life as Professor Madoff, an awful lot of time on his hands.

One thing he is allowed is 300 minutes worth of phone privileges each month.

But you don’t need your allocation if you don’t have anyone who wants to talk to you. Which Madoff doesn’t, other than the WSJ reporter.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow.

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