|“||The person that is buying a share of stock is convinced he knows something that the other person who's selling it to him does not know. There's no zero sum game in Wall Street.||„|
|~ Bernard Madoff|
Bernard Lawrence "Bernie" Madoff (April 29, 1938 - April 14, 2021) was an American former stockbroker, investment advisor, financier, and white collar criminal who was the largest Ponzi schemer in history. He was the former non-executive Chairman of the NASDAQ stock market, and the admitted operator of a Ponzi scheme that is considered to be the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.
Madoff founded the Wall Street firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960, and was its chairman until his arrest on December 11, 2008. The firm was one of the top market maker businesses on Wall Street, which bypassed "specialist" firms by directly executing orders over the counter from retail brokers. He employed at the firm his brother Peter, as Senior Managing Director and Chief Compliance Officer; Peter's daughter Shana Madoff, as the firm's rules and compliance officer and attorney; and his sons Andrew and Mark. Peter has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison and Mark committed suicide by hanging exactly two years after his father's arrest.
On December 10, 2008, Madoff's sons told authorities that their father had confessed to them that the asset management unit of his firm was a massive Ponzi scheme, and quoted him as describing it as "one big lie." The following day, FBI agents arrested Madoff and charged him with one count of securities fraud. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had previously conducted investigations into Madoff's business practices, but did not uncover the massive fraud.
In March 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies and admitted to turning his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. Madoff said he began the Ponzi scheme in the early 1990s. However, federal investigators believe the fraud began as early as the 1970s, and those charged with recovering the missing money believe the investment operation may never have been legitimate. The amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion. The court-appointed trustee estimated actual losses to investors of $18 billion. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum allowed.
Madoff grew up in the predominantly Jewish neighbourhood of Laurelton in Queens, New York. After spending his freshman year at the University of Alabama, he earned a degree (1960) in political science from Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York. He studied law briefly at Brooklyn Law School before founding (1960) Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities with his wife, Ruth, who worked on Wall Street after earning a degree in psychology from Queens College, City University of New York.
Madoff’s specialty was so-called penny stocks—very low-priced shares that traded on the over-the-counter (OTC) market, the predecessor to the NASDAQ exchange. Madoff served as a NASDAQ director for three one-year terms.
Madoff cultivated close friendships with wealthy, influential businessmen in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, signed them as investors, paid them handsome returns, and used their positive recommendations to attract more investors. He also burnished his reputation by developing relationships with financial regulators. He exploited an air of exclusivity to attract serious, moneyed investors; not everyone was accepted into his funds, and it became a mark of prestige to be admitted as a Madoff investor. Investigators later posited that Madoff’s pyramid, or Ponzi, scheme, originated in the early 1980s. As more investors joined, their money was used to fund payouts to existing investors—as well as fee payments to Madoff’s firm and, allegedly, to his family and friends.
Some skeptical individuals concluded that his promised investment returns (10 percent annually, in both up and down markets) were not credible and questioned why the firm’s auditor was a small storefront operation with few employees. In 2001 Barron’s financial magazine published an article that cast doubt on Madoff’s integrity, and financial analyst Harry Markopolos repeatedly presented the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with evidence, notably a detailed investigation, “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund Is a Fraud,” in 2005. Still, the SEC took no actions against Madoff; large accounting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, and BDO Seidman reported no signs of irregularities in their financial reviews; and JPMorgan Chase bank ignored possible signs of money-laundering activities in Madoff’s multimillion-dollar Chase bank account. In fact, the Chase account was used to transfer funds to London-based Madoff Securities International Ltd., which some said existed solely to convey an appearance of investing in British and other European securities. No one knew that the supposed trades were not taking place, because, as a broker-dealer, Madoff’s firm was permitted to book its own trades. Madoff’s employees reportedly were instructed to generate false trading records and bogus monthly investor statements.
The scheme’s longevity was made possible largely through “feeder funds”—management funds that bundled moneys from other investors, poured the pooled investments into Madoff Securities for management, and thereby earned fees in the millions of dollars; individual investors often had no idea that their money was entrusted to Madoff. When Madoff’s operations collapsed in December 2008 amid the global economic crisis, he reportedly admitted the dimensions of the scam to members of his family. The feeder funds collapsed, and losses were reported by such international banks as Banco Santander of Spain, BNP Paribas in France, and Britain’s HSBC, often because of the huge loans that they had made to investors who were wiped out and unable to repay the debt.
In March 2009 Madoff pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering, and other crimes. Madoff’s accountant, David G. Friehling, was also charged in March with securities fraud; it was later revealed that he had been unaware of the Ponzi scheme, and, after cooperating with prosecutors, Friehling ultimately served no prison time. The thousands of people and numerous charitable foundations who had invested with Madoff, directly or indirectly through feeder funds, thus spent the early months of 2009 assessing their often huge financial losses. U.S. federal investigators continued to pursue suspects, including some other members of the Madoff family. Estimates of losses ranged from $50 billion to $65 billion, but investigators acknowledged that locating the missing funds might prove to be impossible. In June 2009 federal judge Denny Chin gave Madoff the maximum sentence of 150 years in prison.
Madoff suffered a heart attack in December 2013, and was reportedly suffering from end-stage renal disease (ESRD) neat the end of his life. According to CBS New York and other news sources, Madoff claimed in an email to CNBC in January 2014 that he has kidney cancer but this was unconfirmed. In court filing from his lawyer in February 2020, it was revealed Madoff was suffering from chronic kidney failure. He died of natural causes at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, on April 14, 2021.