It was inevitable that the fallout from the collapse of international banking and the global government bailouts would add the scum of fraud to the froth of scandal, bubbling to the top of the cauldron of financial disaster. Bernie Madoff is the Big One, but there is absolutely nothing heroic about his Slim Shady wheeling and dealing. Madoff was an unsophisticated, low-rent criminal. Running a Ponzi scheme – paying non-existent profits from an ever-widening circle of new investors, and creaming a bit of ‘personal’ off the top while it’s in your hands – is tacky stuff.
Madoff differs from your local flim-flam man only because of the colossal scale on which he eventually operated. The hugely sophisticated methods of concealing both his actions and the money were devised by paid accomplices, as motivated by greed as he was. It’s the scale that makes him interesting, and the celebrity world he moved in as a consequence. The combination made a story worthy of Aesop, if the wise old Greek had run a red-top gossip column.
Bernie Madoff’s personal take was $65 billion. After decades of deceit, his 150-year prison sentence probably feels like a holiday from it all. Still cushioned by his wealth (via his wife) he can literally relax while officials wrangle over the authorities’ failure to stop him. Theirs is a separate catalogue of cowardice prompted by personal and departmental ambition or greed. Many among his victims have remained quiet, too well aware of temptations and misgivings pushed to the back of their well-heeled minds. Across a great divide are the other victims, whose trust was sought and given and betrayed; and others still, employees of crashed businesses and their families, who won’t even get their wages, never mind million dollar repayments of all-too-willing investments.
There ought to be something funny about Bernie Madoff. But there isn’t.
When: December 11 2008
Where: New York City, New York, USA
Toll: The SEC (Securities 8t Exchange Commission) is planning far-reaching reforms which will have to pass Congressional and Senate hearings to take effect – but first the squabbling over the spoils and blame has to be resolved. The Madoff scandal will run and run.
You should know: Zsa zsa Gabor (Princess and national treasure!) has instructed her lawyers to argue an impertinent IRS (internal Revenue Service) tax claim for $118,000 on grounds of Bernie Madoff’s failure to pay her. If Madoff had ever had that kind of chutzpah, he might never have turned criminal.