If the banking crisis has not convinced you that Wall Street is populated by a bunch of arrogant, greedy and amoral
shysters, then the Ponzi scheme now unfolding should.
After all, reports are that Bernie Madoff, the erstwhile “pillar of Wall Street”, swindled $50
billion from a motley crew of rich folks, from Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to purportedly sophisticated fund
managers, by promising returns (of 15 to 22%) on their money that not even the Almighty God could
Apropos the God reference, it does seem rather miraculous that Madoff managed to dupe so many people for so many years
by doing nothing more than “stealing from Peter to Pay Paul”. (It is rather fitting that his
last name is pronounced “made off”- as in: he made off with a whole lotta loot!) In fact, it is a measure
of how successful he was in luring suckers into his scheme that stories abound about the number of people whose money he refused
to take; i.e., you had to audition for the privilege of having Bernie steal from you.
Meanwhile, the scope of Madoff’s fraud is such that it is on track to surpass the one perpetrated by the snake-oil
salesmen at Enron, which - at $60 billion - stands as the biggest in US history.
I am mindful, however, that to delve too much into this sap story would be to indulge in the most unseemly form of
schadenfreude - especially since his victims include worthy charities and pension funds that have lost their
Yet, it would be remiss of me not to observe that Madoff would not have been so successful if a bunch of greedy rich
folks were not so eager to become even richer. Not to mention that if the heads of many banks in America,
Europe, Asia and the Middle East had been content to earn their money the old-fashioned way (like Smith Barney),
Madoff would’ve been scheming only with millions, not tens of billions of dollars.
I also feel obliged to note that this scandal confirms my abiding suspicion that much of the US financial
market is little more than a house of cards, in which croupiers with MBAs continually shuffle decks to determine winners
Let us hope that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling’s sublime fate disabuses all white-collar criminals of their patently
fatuous presumption that - because they swindle billions from stock portfolios and pension plans - they are somehow smarter
and more honorable than street thugs who steal nickels and dimes (by comparison) from banks and purses.
[Enron's masters of the universe found guilty as sin, The iPINIONS
Journal, May 26, 2006 ]
Unfortunately, as P.T. Barnum folklore has it:
There’s a sucker born every minute.
Incidentally, last week, after investors became spooked by the ongoing global financial crisis and started demanding billions,
Madoff reportedly felt compelled to confess to his sons that his reputation as an investment genius was
“all just one big lie”; that his business was insolvent for years; that he was “finished
and had absolutely nothing”; that “there is no innocent explanation”; and that he “expected to go
His sons, who evidently knew nothing about his scam, turned him in to the FBI. He has been charged and
is currently holed up in his swank New York City apartment on $10 million bail….
NOTE: Given the unprecedented level of this fraud, I hereby declare that we should retire Mr Ponzi
and henceforth refer to the scheme that bears his name as a “Madoff scheme”. More importantly,
I have no doubt that Madoff, 70, will be convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison
- if he doesn’t opt instead to take the coward’s way out…