Books shed light on Bernard Madoff's shady activities

She drills down to Madoff's Wall Street days of a young stock trader in the 1960s and details his vision of electronic trading in the 1980s and his role in promoting and using Nasdaq (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System), a nationwide electronic network of broker-dealers. She tracks his path to becoming a golden boy with a cozy relationship with the SEC as far back as the 1970s. She describes his secretive 17th-floor advisory operation in Manhattan's Midtown "Lipstick building" that remained largely hidden from his legitimate broker-dealer operation on the 18th and 19th floors.

That said, it's far from unraveling the whole story and is repetitive in parts, probably a result of the rush to press. "It's a complex, ever-changing, and expanding tale of a fraud of unprecedented proportions," she writes. She surmises, "Had the stock market in the United States not collapsed in 2008, Madoff's scam would probably have continued. But by the autumn of 2008, the shaky economy was beginning to take its toll, investors were clamoring for money out of their last safe haven, and Madoff needed to oblige them to keep the scam going. He needed cash fast."

"Bernie was facing a staggering amount of redemptions as more and more people cashed out … the 'sticky money' from individuals, from old friends and referrals on whom Madoff had relied for decades — the money that never left him — was now leaving. Even the big players were panicking. Investors wanted $7 billion of their money back now from Madoff before the year's end."

Madoff was able to carry on for so long because people trusted him. They were hypnotized by those returns. "Potential investors who did their due diligence and looked closely at Madoff often decided to steer clear," writes Arvedlund.

For those who refused to ask, the magic ran out. She writes that in 2001 when she penned her Barron's piece, she had no idea that Madoff was running a historic pyramid scam. But she did know he wasn't doing what he claimed. She also didn't know about Harry Markopolos, the certified fraud examiner, who had made it his personal mission to expose Madoff's scam starting in 1999, repeatedly sending the SEC warnings that Madoff was a fraud.

Jerry Oppenheimer's Madoff With the Money is a more titillating read, based on dozens of interviews with people who knew Madoff intimately. These range from disgruntled relatives to Hollywood victims, such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, now in her 90s, and her ninth husband, Prince Frederic Von Anhalt, 65, to those who lost life savings through feeder funds.

Oppenheimer's yarn describes Madoff as a "born operator who always seemed to know his way around the system — even when he was a young punk growing up in Queens."

Recollections from high school classmates at Far Rockaway High School sketch a profile of a rather unexceptional student with a nervous tick and twitchy eye, an unremarkable athlete, a guy many remember as a "putz." He touches on Madoff's parents, who were involved in a questionable stock business, and his father-in-law, Saul Alpern, a "shrewd CPA" who would send him some of his earliest investors.

Like Arvedlund, Oppenheimer tips his hat to the tenacious Markopolos, who tried repeatedly to get the SEC turned on to Madoff's fraud. Oppenheimer reports that Markopolos later revealed that he feared for his life afterward and began checking his car for bombs.

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