January 27th, 2009

Madoff and his sons: walking the perp walk alone?

Bernie Madoff ran quite the little family business. Back in the happier, headier days of 2000, son Mark is quoted as saying:

All of his family members grew up with this being our lives. When it is a family operated business you don’t go home at night and shut everything off, so you take things home with you, which is how all of us grew up.

Madoff practiced nepotism to a degree I assume is somewhat unusual in the world of investment firms, employing not only sons Mark and Andrew, but a host of other relatives: brother Peter, niece Shana, nephews Charles and Roger (the role of wife Ruth in recent years remains unclear).

But Madoff insists that he, and he alone, knew of the fraudulent nature of his hedge fund operations. His sons, not surprisingly, agree.

Of course, Madoff is a liar. So why should we believe him on this one point? The answer is: we shouldn’t. But neither should we automatically assume that his sons absolutely had to be in the know.

I say this not through excess of naivete, although it may sound that way. No, I am fully aware that it is highly possible, not to mention likely, that the sons were cognizant of the Ponzi nature of the operations, and are part of the coverup.

But at the same time I think anyone who assumes Madoff himself could not have been clever enough, secretive enough, and criminal enough to defraud and fool even his own family is suffering from a different sort of naivete (see this).

So, if they weren’t part of the swindle, just what might the sons have been doing all day in their large but perhaps spartan offices (Madoff favored black, white, and gray as a color scheme, and reportedly was so obsessive-compulsive that he had no tolerance for a stray scrap of paper on the desks of employees)? Madoff carefully kept the brockerage arm of the firm—which the sons ran—separate from the fraudulent hedge fund operation. The former was apparently a bona fide business.

This, of course, does not mean the sons were not taken into his confidence. Perhaps the whole structure was carefully arranged merely to give the appearance of separation in order for the sons to exercise plausible deniability later on.

This past weekend’s Wall Street Journal has this to say of what is known so far about their role:

While neither son has been implicated by prosecutors, the sons interacted with some who worked in the Madoff investment operation. As executives at the firm, they met regularly with their father and other senior officials of the firm in closed-door discussions in the company’s offices, according to former employees. They both gave their father some of their own money to manage and occasionally chatted with a key lieutenant who now is a focus of probes into the alleged fraud, and they defended their father’s investment operation against critics.

These associations hardly constitute smoking guns, although they make it clear that opportunities abounded for the sons to learn about the scheme, if Madoff so desired, or if they smelled a rat. But did he, and/or did they?

Son Mark, who once had personal money invested in dad’s hedge fund, pulled it out for undisclosed reasons prior to a divorce in 2000—the strongest evidence, in my opinion, of his possible knowledge. But son Andrew remained heavily invested right up until the revelations of December.

So, what is the likelihood the sons knew? I can’t say; no one can except the parties themselves. But my gut tells me that Madoff senior is the sort of person who likes to feel superior to everybody around. Part of that supreme sort of narcissism and criminality is that it tends to take no one else into its confidence. I agree with those who believe that:

…good old Bernie Madoff might have stolen simply for the fun of it, exploiting every relationship in his life for decades while studiously manipulating financial regulators.

And note that “every relationship in his life,” if true, would include sons Andrew and Mark.

Madoff may have much preferred to walk alone. In fact, that may have been the whole point:

[NOTE: One fact that contradicts my "loner" theory is that someone must have been generating those imaginary reports of transactions for the hedge fund. Could it have been Madoff himself? I submit that, until other evidence surfaces, the answer is "yes." The guy seems to have been obsessive-compulsive enough to have done so. Here's how:

Madoff made his reputation on building complex financial systems, covering the full range of investment management—accounts, trades, taxes, clearinghouses, balances.

All he had to do was switch the input signal from real accounts to simulated accounts. And every programmer knows what happens then: GIGO—Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Call it the Madoff Virtual Reality Trading Simulation Game.]

25 Responses to “Madoff and his sons: walking the perp walk alone?”

  1. soupcon Says:

    There has to be a banking trail that will lead to the loot, and I am shocked we haven’t heard a peep from Madoff friend,Charlie Schumer, about using some muscle to get after the banks.Banks do seem like easy targets these days.

    My money is on the wife Ruthie as being in the know.

  2. Logern Says:

    One reason I’d add to the speculation that his family members probably knew, is that after a certain number of years you’d wonder if he might hint in the form of bragging in offhand ways how clever he had been for so long to pull this off. Maybe this would occur in subtle ways one could choose to ignore or attribute to other things.

    I don’t wish to see family members go down if they are innocent, but on the other hand I don’t think anyone wants to see collaborators “make off” with ill gotten gains.

  3. csimon Says:

    neo– There have been so many articles currently being written trying to solve the mysteries, delve into Madoff’s psyche, project as to why he did what he did……. It’s only a matter of time before a raft of books hits the shelves, and no doubt, in time, a movie, or movies. (Perfect background audiences love: playgrounds of the rich, private jets, multi-houses here in U.S. and south of France, office in London, yachts, throw a little sex in with side stories of sons & divorces, niece and her affair and later marriage to attorney and head of compliance at SEC — pretty people, lots and lots of money jewels…. a natural)

    But a few points: first, not unusual in privately held company — whether investment business or manufacturing widgets, for good deal of nepotism. It’s just Daddy or Uncle, or Grandfather paying children’s salaries — whether or not they do good job. But point is they give them job. Certainly, to be successful, Madoff did have to hire a good number of competent employees to run his legal businesses. (In retrospect, they may have thought they were treated like family. I doubt very much that they were treated as his family was) Also, if it is true that sons had “some of their” money under his management at one time or another, I again think this was for plausible deniability. i.e. Why would I have put my money there if I had known?”

    Also, I notice that you continue to characterize Madoff’s private investment fund as a hedge fund. It was not — in any way shape of form. It was a money management business in which he had a (supposed) method of investment which provided fairly even and regular returns on an investor’s money in return for a management fee. Such businesses are completely different from hedge funds which are funds specifically designed for wealthy individuals, and whose purpose is to make high-risk investments for high risk returns. They are operated differently and fall under different regulatory rules. There WERE a number of businesses who ran hedge funds and did invest a portion of their funds’ monies with Madoff. And then, also, there were funds that were not hedge funds — various types of funds, and even funds of other funds that were also invested with Madoff. Perhaps that was in belief that some reliable gains in the portfolio would offset big losses on big bets. It is, however, important to understand what kind of fund Mr. Madoff’s investment business purported to be.
    Note: These facts have brought up new questions for the courts? Will those individual investors who were investors in hedge funds, other funds, banks’ funds, which in turn, invested with Madoff, be treated as the individuals/entities which directly had accounts with Madoff. Ordinarily, such investors would be legally obligated to seek remuneration from the business with whom they had directly invested via lawsuits. To date, the judge has made no decision.

    I agree with you re: the possibility that Bernie Madoff might have done this — at least, in part — for the “fun” of it and the ability to manipulate the regulators, etc. But I don’t think the “fun” lasts for 3 decades +. Also, from much of the reading I’ve done (a lot) — much of which, if not all, is conjecture, his personality has been characterized as manupulative (obviously) and highly narcissistic. The New York Times article this past weekend focused primarily on his character and the reasons he might have done what he did. In particular, two highly experienced criminal profilers ( neither of whom has met Madoff personally) discussed his psychopathic tendencies, comparing him with offenders such as serial killers. The methodical need for control, the grandiose thoughts, entitlement, and immense narcissism all seem to be present. You would, I’m sure, be much more familiar with the psychology involved. What I wonder is, for someone so narcissistic, wouldn’t he WANT somebody (i.e. at least his wife, sons…) to know of his “brilliance, his genius?” Would it not be more satisfying if somebody were to know?

  4. Jim Says:

    Any accountant must be asking “Who are the auditors and what did they know?” An investment firm like Madoff’s has to have an annual audit by a firm of licensed professional CPAs. The audit program for an investment firm is not what I would call “rocket science”. It involves confirmation of assets by inspecting stock certificates, bonds, loan agreements, investor statements and bank statements. Most of these require confirmations from third parties to prevent the use of fake documents. Even if a 72 year old man like Bernie Madoff had the energy to fabricate thousands of authentic-looking phony documents for decades, he would still need his auditors, controllers, computer network specialists and other staff members to willingly look the other way.

    I understand that the auditor was a two man firm in Long Island with the senior partner living in Florida – highly unusual for a $50 billion client. I suspect that the FBI is going through the CPA workpapers right now. This trail could lead to a shipload of collaborators. It’s a pity that there are no investigative journalists out there with enough accounting knowledge to smell a big story out of this. Why aren’t the networks interviewing experienced auditors and fraud examiners and related experts to educate the public? Does anyone know of a certified fraud examiner (CFE) who believes in the “loner theory”?

    If Bernie did it alone, this would be the first large scale fraud in history to be pulled off by a loner. Sorry to all you “loner theorists” out there. Bernie had lots of help, perhaps in high places. I’m willing to bet that poor old Bernie mysteriously dies of a heart attack before we find out the rest of the story.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    csimon: I used the term “hedge fund” because I seemt to recall that, at least according to one of the articles, that’s what Madoff called it to distinguish it from the brockerage part.

    As for your conclusion—I think for the sort of personality I’m talking about, it is much more satisfying when no one knows the deception. Remember, everyone already thought of him as a very successful and respected moneymaker, and that fed his ego. The fact that he was also hoodwinking all of them fed his ego, too, but even more so if he was the only one who knew that aspect of himself. It would give him a feeling of superiority to everyone—first, for the deception, and second, for pulling it off without anyone knowing.

    That said, I repeat that it certainly is possible that he told others. I just think that, psychologically, it makes more sense the other way.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Jim: if you follow the link on the “Note” at the end of the post, you’ll see that generating the phony documents would have taken very little energy. It could be done quite easily by Madoff himself, by computer.

    The audits are more problematic, I agree. That tiny two-man firm is a very odd part of the Madoff story, and a very suspicious one that should have raised a million red flags.

    Here’s more about auditing Madoff. Also this.

  7. waltj Says:

    I’m a former CFE (I let my certification lapse about 5 years ago when I went into a different field), but I still remember the concepts quite well. No, I don’t think Madoff acted alone, although only time will tell if his sons were in the know or not. I wouldn’t make too much of his son Mark cashing in his shares in 2000. There are dozens of reasons to sell shares, and to finance a divorce happens to be one of the more common ones. But there’s only one reason someone buys (or stays invested) with shares, and that’s to make money. Yes, it could be that son Andrew was just providing cover for dear old dad, but the simplest explanation at this point is that he was snookered like the rest of them.

    Jim is absolutely right. The auditors should get some really close scrutiny. The auditor is not conducting a proper audit if he does not get needed documents from neutral third parties like banks, insurance companies, and brokerage houses. There’s also a concept called “willful blindness” which holds those who exercise fiduciary responsibility to a high standard, and it includes accountants and auditors. It simply means that if the books look cooked, you can’t ignore it. You have to take action of some type, even if it’s just to recuse yourself from the audit. It’s part of KYC–know your customer, and one reason why banks get nailed for money laundering–they “should” have known what was going on, that the actions a particular client was taking were suspicious, didn’t match his transactional or business profile, or whatever. The nice thing is there’s no “accountant-client privilege”, and all of the auditor’s working papers should be available through subpoena (or search warrant, on the criminal side). The auditor can also be called to testify, as I’m certain he will be. This will be very interesting to watch as it moves through the court system.

  8. csimon Says:

    I agree with Waltj and Jim — and here I should add that I am an experiencd auditor in my early post-Duke Univ. years. Each yr. when the hired auditors are preparing for the job, they design a complete audit “map” so to speak which covers sll, of not most aspects of the audit to be performed. This is genereally done by the partner in charge and the manager (close to being made a partner) and then actually implemented by managers and senior and junior accountants acctually on the job. The designed audit inludes numerous types of accounting “tests” for veracity, as well as tests on specified acounts determined by statistical models (often computer generated to remove bias). Thus, the suditors on site would be responsible for not oly reviewing the business charters, minitues of corporate meetings and so forth, but actually tracing TRANSACTIONS that were to have been made on clients behalf in order to result in income on money invested. Likewise, there would be tests on fees deived by Madoff companies based total $ under management. and possibly transactional commission fees for the “supposed trades” being made on behalf of money management clients. In other words, theese would have to be traced ot invooices charging trading commissions for those trades made on behalf of clients invested in this private money management operation. Clearly, we have not been privy to any such auditing operations and the extent of said tests, let alone results. Note: the design of the audit and testing is created in strict compliance with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Standads) and would not, under normal circumstances be a jumble of compliance tests determined on the fly without confirmation to other audits of similarly auditied businesses. There have been rumours re: the type of auditing company that was responsible for annual audits, but nothing has been confirmed, let alone the no. of employees, and their levels and responsibilities. Tho’ the senior auditor in charge (ie. the partner, generally visits the facility at some time during the audit, specificically before and during the time the audit program is designed, rarely is he present until final tests results have beeen done, unless there are significant aberrations which must be discussed personally with business owners.

    Lastly, re: the use of the term “hedge fund” and because this term is reserved for a specific type of fund, I don’t discount what you seemed to believe you read, but with all the aricles written, especially when many of the investors were hedge funds themselves, or funds of funds, I doubt Mr. Madoff would himself have referred to this particula segment of his business as such — it simply wasn’t. He was not a Certified Financial Planner, as many who run such funds now are, but he was legally allowed to run a private investment firm — specifying that it was not a hedge fund, which as I’ve said, falls under distinctly different regulatory rules and reporting. (Generally hedge funds have the most lax regulorty obligations. whereas Mr. Madoff’s investment fund was clealy under the auspices of the SEC. Auditors’ workpapers are the essential map by which one can follow backwards, all examinations, tests, and inconsistenceies if there were any — which generally must be revealed in notes in the published and signed audit results.
    Sure lots of information still to be coming to public light….

  9. SteveH Says:

    Any other time this would be a huge story to peak my interest. With socialism making end roads daily i can’t help but see it as a slight of hand distraction from the big picture. It fits the greedy capitalist meme being shoved down the country’s throat just a little to well.

  10. Tom Says:

    Neo- Your charge of nepotism bothers me. You’re saying the sons had their jobs with Dad without regard to their training or abilities, and I don’t know enough about the sons to be comfortable with that charge. Hiring family into a family-owned business is not ipso facto nepotism.

    As to the purposes of diligent annual auditing, I will be grateful if the audit-knowledgeable bloggers would enumerate the reasons why such MUST (not should) be done for Madoff’s firm. SEC requirements? IRS requirements? I don’t know the whys of this, but it seems clear folks invested with Madoff based on faith, not true facts, and thus may have not done their due diligence and didn’t want to scrutinize or even care about proper audits. They just wanted those great returns.

  11. waltj Says:

    “…It fits the greedy capitalist meme being shoved down the country’s throat just a little to well.”

    It certainly could be played that way, and I’m sure there are many on the left (and some on the populist right, for that matter) who will do exactly that. Unfortunately, many people are, well, just plain stupid and/or ignorant about money. No avoiding that conclusion, sorry. But this is not a case of “capitalism gone mad”. It’s simply garden-variety fraud, if on a grand scale. What Madoff allegedly did is no different in kind than the unscrupulous contractor who sells elderly people overpriced home improvements they don’t need, or the bucket-shop telemarketer pushing nonexistent oil leases. Only in the degree and the particulars of the instruments used does it differ. As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true…

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    For all those interested in how Madoff was “audited” (and the short answer is: very poorly, if at all) please see this and this.

  13. Truth Says:

    Of course, Madoff is a liar.

    Waite and read this:

    In 2000, Harry Markopoulos, a Greek-American leading expert on derivatives, wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Boston office to inform the federal watchdog of markets that Bernard L. Madoff was running “the world’s largest hedge fund fraud.” He stipulated, “My name not be released to anyone other than the branch chief and team leader in the New York region, without my express permission.”
    Mr. Markopoulos was worried about his safety and that of his family. He said his report was written solely for the SEC’s internal use.” He was clearly afraid of assassination. But his red flag was only one of 28 such warnings to the SEC in the first eight years of the 21st century.
    A Greek-American friend of Mr. Markopoulos, now in Switzerland, wrote in his blog, “He nailed Madoff, listing the back-door marketing and financing schemes as if he were an insider. But the SEC did not respond. Powerful political voices ordered the SEC not to proceed. I am not naming names because libel laws mostly favor the criminal in Europe, and their names will never get past libel lawyers. The largest investors were not Jewish charities as was reported by New York newspapers, but French, Spanish and Swiss private banks.”
    Mr. Markopoulos predicted the implosion of all the main funds (which he named) that dealt with Mr. Madoff four years before they imploded. That nobody listened or did anything about it is an even bigger scandal.

    The Washington Time
    Tuesday, January 27, 2009
    DE BORCHGRAVE: Ignorance is not bliss
    Arnaud de Borchgrave

  14. csimon Says:

    I find most of the above comments on this thread rather disturbing, as most make statements yet exhibit either no actual knowledge of Madoff’s money management business, nor even much reading before or subsequent to his admission.

    First, Truth (only beacause you were most recent comment). There was indeed a Mr. Markopoulos who did report SUSPICIONS to the SEC going so far back as the early 1990′s. Just because there are those that have suspicions about businesses, this is not an indication of guilt. As it happens, the SEC did investigate — we do not know to what extent and only an investigation of SEC records could or might reveal information, the SEC found there to be no basis in fact. In fact, no matter how many suspicious people or even just cynics felt things were not all above-board at Madoff, not until the day his sons tuned him in (no one, obviously knows what or when they actually had concrete information), NO ONE knew Mr. Madoff was a liar. Quite the contrary he was highly regarded and respected.

    Which brings me to waltj’s comments:

    “Unfortunately, many people are, well, just plain stupid and/or ignorant about money. No avoiding that conclusion, sorry. But this is not a case of “capitalism gone mad”. It’s simply garden-variety fraud, ”

    Sir, if this is the case, then many of the worlds greatest financial minds, most successful financiers, heads of banks, fund businesses are just plain stupid. You, I assume would have been way too smart to have invested in Mr. Madoff.

    The fact is, any individual, company, or bank performing due diligence before investing with Madoff received only the highest accolades — by word of mouth of those who had been invested with him as far back as 30 YEARS (that’s some pretty solid recommendations) and among professionals on the street. His results were consistent and solid over THREE DECADES — through numerous financial cycles good and bad. His results naturally fluctuated from month to month and depending on the economy (contrary to many who erroneously think they know everything). Those who inquired with the SEC learned he had a perfectly clean record. There were zero public inquiries or suggestions of wrongdoing. Inquiring among top regulators revealed not only was his business acumen enomously respected, but his advice was regularly sought on matters of regulation and rules. Finally, he had one of the best reputations for insuring that his businesses did everything required of regulators. Considering we have this valuable opportunity of your commentary, might you share how unlike dozens and dozens of the wealthiest and most successful people in this world, who did not get that way by giving their money to every “garden variety” fund soliciting them, the large number of banks, people who ran some of the biggest funds and banks in this country and beyond, would you kindly share your fount of knowledge when it comes to due diligence, and how you would have done PROPER due diligence that would have ensured that you would never have been so stupid as to fall for this “garden variety fraud?” This garden variety fraud, I might add, that has the financial world reeling, shocked beyond all belief, even in the setting in which the credit implosion and the resulting blow to our economy, as well as that of much of the world’s, has been the predominant consideration. (That is not to say that were the economy to be in top form, this would not be equally as shocking).

  15. Jim Says:

    Like csimon, I too am very disturbed by some of these comments. This was no “garden variety” fraud. This was extraordinary, amounting to tens of billions and going back more than three decades. Nearly everyone relied on those audit opinions, which year after year must have been “clean” opinions. I agree that it would be hard to rigorously investigate someone of Madoff’s reputation and connections but even a rudimentary investigation would have reviewed the CPA workpapers and would have duplicated some aspects of an audit with reconfirmations, etc. It looks like the SEC must have sent a blind “Mr. Magoo” type who couldn’t see past his/her nose.
    Neo-neocon: True Madoff could have faked thousands of investor statements with a sophisticated computer program but wouldn’t he need a computer expert to create the program? Does Bernie know how to write code as well? He would also need to fake tons of other types of documents, many of which are registered and more difficult to counterfeit than checks or currency. He still would have the problem of independent confirmations of bank and brokerage statements – unless his auditors and key accounting employees were in on the scheme. One of the first things I would check would be the salaries of his employees (related or not). I suspect that most were paid well above their market value and very well treated.
    There is nothing typical about this fraud. It was huge. We will never know how far it really went and while Hollywood will make a profitable movie out of this, the entire financial community has been shamed beyond repair. Every accountant should demand the hides of all of Bernie’s helpers. I used to think that the penalty for fraud in the Peoples Republic of China, execution, was unduly harsh. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps Bernie can be extradited to Beijing. There is a good reason he wears a bullet proof vest. He is not only targeted by his victims, but by his friends too!

  16. csimon Says:

    Jim, Ain’t that the truth!

    By the way, in response to your thought about checking employees’ salaries: remember those 100 checks sitting in Madoff’s desk, signed and addressed? Those checks distributed nearly the entire balance remaining in Madoff’s accounts (rumored –and I stress RUMORED because only the Feds who have them know for sure — to be between $175 – $300 million). All 100 checks were made out to Madoff’s family, a few friends, and all the rest to employees.

  17. newton Says:

    I don’t know if any of you read the newspapers a few days ago, but it seems fraud runs in the Madoff bloodline. Nope, I don’t mean his sons nor his niece.

    There was an article in the NY Post (or WSJ, I frankly don’t remember) which reveals a decades-old SEC prosecution of Madoffs parents (!) for accounting fraud. The senior Madoffs were allowed to remain free in exchange for never again be involved in accounting. Wasn’t in the sixties when Madoff began his financial business in the first place?

    Also, how was it that the SEC were able to catch his parents’ fraud and gain guilty verdicts so quickly, while today’s SEC will not?

  18. Truth Says:

    Just because there are those that have suspicions about businesses, this is not an indication of guilt.

    csimon , Agreed

    But keep in mind if you recall there were time when Enron and other big business like Xerox and others they have hard time for there false claims/ Share values and US courts went through them.

    As per Madoff business there is good case to be investigated first of all specially with that time 2000 when those other brought to court after investigations,

    So what make people who looked to Enron and other business far from such Madoff business when in facts there is some noise regarding their business?

    Anyway here the market and customers left behind with billions of dollars lost by a Lair.

    Btw, Spain and many other just files court case against Madoff in US, let see what these case cane achieved and did Madoff loose his personal wealth due to his fraudulent behaviours.

  19. waltj Says:

    Ok, it seems I’ve touched a nerve or two with my comments about this being a “garden variety” fraud. That was not intended to minimize its impact, which has been huge. But its massive scale and the length of time it went on are the only things I see that appear to make it unique. Otherwise, it’s still securities fraud, which has been going on since we’ve had securities.

    As far as people being stupid about money, if you re-read my post, you’ll note that I was referring to how the public might react to reading about it from writers of the left and right who might attempt to portray Madoff’s scam as a failure of capitalism. I wasn’t necessarily referring to Madoff’s investors.

    How would I avoid getting singed where more “sophisticated” investors than I ended up with second-and third-degree burns? Here’s where I take one of Warren Buffet’s rules very seriously: never invest in something you don’t understand. If you don’t understand the product, don’t understand how the company is supposed to make money selling it, how its finances are structured, and so on, then you should probably not invest in it. The corollary to this is: beware of geeks bearing formulas. If you need a complex mathematical formula to show you how your investment is going to turn $1 into $2, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. If someone says he can get 12% ROI when everyone else is getting 4% or 5%, you better believe I’m going to ask some pointed questions, I don’t care how connected the guy is or how sterling his reputation is.

  20. csimon Says:

    waltj — your cautionary and sensible approach to potential investment is well put.

    The only problem is, as it relates to Madoff, the “recipe” for investiment presented to investors was indeed quite simple. It called for sticking to blue chip stocks, combined with the use of calls and puts to hedge against market fluctuations. Calls and puts are fairly elementary options actions.

    Further, more than once you accuse Madoff investors of greed and failure to due diligence. Where do you assume either? What makes you think investors did not ask pointed questions? In point of fact, Madoff had a team of people whose jobs were dedicated to answering questions and discussing (supposed) investments at any time an investor called. Much has been made of his personal unavailability, however, and that is interesting. Personally, I find it hard to believe that those who ran funds and banks which invested
    hundreds of millions (much of which was investors’ money) — some more than $ 1 billion — did not have top ranking personnel meet with him personally before commiting such enormous amounts of money.

  21. csimon Says:

    Newton — I read an article alluding to his mother who had a brokerage license for several years. As she applied for her license after this, the SEC began a probe of 48 firms including hers. However charges were dropped against his mother. I believe this was in exchange for her withdrawal of her application. Her firm was not among those who conceded any violations.

  22. waltj Says:

    csimon, I wouldn’t necessarily call Madoff’s investors greedy. Wanting to maximize one’s returns is a major goal of most investors, myself included. But when there’s a significant spread between what most investors are receiving and what someone like Madoff is promising–for the same amount of risk–then I’m going to dig as deeply as I can before I put any money with him. Due diligence doesn’t always uncover deeply hidden secrets, like Madoff’s apparent fraud, but many times it does expose cracks in the foundation. I wonder if these were in fact found, or if people preferred to ignore them, not wanting to believe their eyes. And yes, I would find it very odd indeed if Madoff couldn’t find the time to meet with senior money managers who were about to place enormous sums with him.

    I’m still curious about what the third-party documents showed. If the “auditor” was relying only on Madoff-generated documents, then he wasn’t conducting a true audit, and could not legally have passed it off as such. If he did, he can probably figure on spending some time in the Big House, as well as never being let near a set of company books again. And what was the SEC doing while this was happening?

  23. csimon Says:

    waltj– you have previously called Madoff investors greedy, stupid and ignorant and accused them — collectively — as having failed to conduct due diligence. Those are primarily what I have had issues with. You are somewhat backing down but can’t seem quite to withdraw such accusations (somewhat akin to Obama’s backing down on the surge in Iraq but without being able to get the words surge and successful out of his mouth). But everyone reading here has definitely gotten both our points by now.

    I agree that it is every investor’s responsibility to know where they are putting their money — whether it be with an investment manage, a mutual fund, a bank, money market account, what they stand to gain and by what means, and, most especially, what they stand to lose — what is the risk. At the least, if they are paying someone to make these decisions for them, they are still responsible for checking out such person’s background, record, and so forth.

    As for “cracks” having been found and ignored due to people’s “not wanting to believe their eyes,” I very seriously doubt it. Just over 6 mos. ago we saw the 2nd largest bank failure in U.S. history (Indymac) result simply from ruminations on the part of a U.S. Senator in a letter. If any cracks had been found, money would have drained out of Madoff faster than you can say electronic transfer!

    The audit question is another mystery unto itself. Whether the audits were truly independent (was Madoff’s firm the entire source of business for the auditors?) and were audits complete with 3rd party confirmation tests? Were they based solely on Madoff generated documents? As an ex-auditor (in my distant past) I’m most curious to learn the answers.

    But remember, ANY audit is only so good as the set of books and access to information afforded the auditors. I’m waiting for more answers concerning the SEC, but they, too, can investigate only to the extent that they have access (which of course would exceed any auditor’s). Frankly, I suspect that Madoff’s cozy ties to regulators (including his niece’s now-husband who was a compliance officer w/ SEC) might at least partially answer the question of how he pulled off what he did for so long, but there’s a LOT to answer for. I’m eager for the answers to many questions, but I’m not sure we’ll ever learn all the answers. But then again, maybe we will.

  24. waltj Says:

    csimon, I think we’re in agreement on some of the major points here: first of all, the blame for the fraud should fall firmly on Madoff’s shoulders. Failures, if any, in due diligence on the part of his investors pale in comparison to the massive scam that was perpetrated against them. The cause of theft is thieves, not lack of vigilance by the victims. Second, what was up with the auditor? I, too, in a former life did this for a living, and it would be unconscionable for me to have attempted an audit without third-party confirmation documents. If the auditor was fooled also, then frankly I will be at a loss. Third, where was the SEC, and did nepotism play any part in its inaction?

    I’m less confident than you that investors’ money would have been pulled out quickly at the first indications of trouble. Banks are easily accessible, and demand deposits are called that for a reason–you can withdraw them anytime you want. They also tend to be institutions that people don’t feel have much sentimentality for. Especially these days with all the mergers and changes. If it shows signs of weakness, money will fly out. I’m not so sure that holds as true for investments, especially when they’re with a well-known, respected money manager like Madoff. Other money managers shouldn’t cut him any slack, but I can’t help but wonder if they did, because of his reputation. Maybe we’ll find this out down the road as well.

  25. Jim Says:

    “The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

    I thank all those contributors, who are knowledgeable about financial controls. They confirm my belief that Madoff could not have acted alone. He had lots of help from many enablers.

    Neo-neocon – I know that your background allows you great insight into the psychology of predators like Madoff, but perhaps you should do some studying of what makes up the psychology of the enablers. It is the enablers, helpers and those who “look the other way” that feed the predators like Madoff and make it possible for them to do their damage. We need to make it clear to all that it is morally wrong to “look the other way”. Bernie had lots of help from enablers, and they should be punished as well. It seems that the enablers in our society are gaining the upper hand. Perhaps those of us with moral convictions are the real wierdos!

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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