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Wife, Son Give Texture to ‘the Way Madoff Kept Them in the Dark’

October 31, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Nearly three years after the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal erupted, wife Ruth Madoff and son Andrew are telling their side of the story. Gwen Ifill and "Wizard of Lies" author Diana Henriques take a deeper look into the Madoff family.
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GWEN IFILL: Next, a fuller picture of the Bernie Madoff story.

Thousands of investors are still dealing with the wreckage left behind by convicted financier Madoff in the wake of his enormous Ponzi scheme. Now other key members of the Madoff family are providing their own inside account.

Nearly three years after Bernard Madoff’s name first hit the headlines, his wife, Ruth, and his son Andrew are telling their side of the story.

Last night, tied to the release of a new book on the Madoff family, they appeared on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

RUTH MADOFF, wife of Bernard Madoff: I trusted him. Why would it ever occur to me that it wasn’t legal? The business was — his reputation was almost legendary. Why would I ever think that there was something sinister going on?

MORLEY SAFER, CBS News: But people say that there’s no way these kids could not have at the very least suspected something was going on.

ANDREW MADOFF, son of Bernard Madoff: Well, keep in mind these were completely separate businesses. We were executing hundreds of thousands of transactions a day. And that kept all of us incredibly busy. And it just didn’t occur to me that he could be involved in any kind of criminal activity.

GWEN IFILL: In March 2009, Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies related to running the largest Ponzi scheme in history. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison for bilking investors, large and small, out of as much as $80 billion of cash and paper wealth.

Ruth Madoff told CBS News last night she still doesn’t know why he did it.

RUTH MADOFF: I don’t understand it. I don’t — it’s hard for me to say this, but I don’t think the money was the part of it. I think he got stuck. That’s what he said. And he didn’t have the courage to face — face things when they might have been able to be faced on a much smaller scale.

GWEN IFILL: Shortly after her husband was arrested in December 2008, Ruth Madoff says they tried to commit suicide together by taking pills. They survived, but in December of last year, it was their eldest son, Mark, who did take his own life. Andrew Madoff, who with his brother Mark, turned their father in to authorities, told CBS News his relationship with his father is over.

ANDREW MADOFF: What he did to me, to my brother, and to my family is unforgivable. What he did to thousands of other people, destroyed their lives, I will never understand it. And I will never forgive him for it. And I will never speak to him again.

GWEN IFILL: An authorized family biography, “Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff family,” went on sale today.

For a deeper look into the book, the interviews and the personalities behind them, I am joined by Diana Henriques, New York Times senior financial writer, and author of “The Wizard of Lies,” a book on the Madoff scandal.

Diana, welcome back to the program.

You have by now spoken to Bernie Madoff in jail. You have spoken to his wife, Ruth. And you have spoken to Andrew. What do we know about this family?

DIANA HENRIQUES, The New York Times: Well, I think it’s interesting that they are finally speaking up. This has been — people who have been on stage as key players from the very beginning of this scandal, but we haven’t heard from them.

They’re very different people, obviously. Ruth is very different from Bernie. My three-hour interview with her showed a person who is still very fragile, still having a very hard time comprehending the crime that her husband committed and the damage that he did, and, of course, still grieving deeply for her son Mark.

Andrew is still, as you could tell from that clip, very, very angry at his father. We’re seeing a family really that’s just been torn apart by this man’s crime. As so many other families were hurt financially, this family was hurt both financially and, as you can see, deeply in terms of their emotional ties to one another.

GWEN IFILL: Are you satisfied after having had these conversations that neither Ruth Madoff nor Andrew Madoff knew, really knew what Bernie Madoff was up to?

DIANA HENRIQUES: Well, not just because of these conversations.

I think that we’re looking now almost three years later at a total absence of any actual evidence that they were involved at all. It’s very difficult, of course, to prove a negative, to prove that you didn’t know then something that you do know now.

But there has never been any demonstration of any testimony, any hard evidence, any documentary evidence. Neither Ruth, Mark, nor Andrew have ever been the target or the subject of a criminal investigation.

So I had concluded well before this publicity blitz that there was very little evidence that they knew about Madoff’s crime. They now, of course, have underscored that, saying that they definitely didn’t.

Andrew gives some interesting details about confronting his father about a succession plan: What do we do if you get hit by a bus?

So, that has given a little bit more texture to that — the way Madoff kept them in the dark.

GWEN IFILL: What do you know of their — the nature of the relationship now between Ruth and Bernard Madoff?

DIANA HENRIQUES: There is no relationship. She had determined that she wasn’t going to see him again in the fall of 2010.

She had only done about a handful of visits in prison. And on one of them she told him: “I’m losing my family because I keep coming here. I have to stop. And you have to help me stop. You have to stop writing and calling.”

Madoff didn’t. He continued to call. And she changed her phone number…

GWEN IFILL: But she…

DIANA HENRIQUES: … to demonstrate to her sons that she was absolutely cutting him off. But it was too late for her relationship with Mark.

GWEN IFILL: They are still…

DIANA HENRIQUES: He…

GWEN IFILL: Pardon me. I just want to be clear.

They’re still married to one another, though. There’s no divorce.

DIANA HENRIQUES: They are married. They are married.

Andrew, in my interview with him, said that he thinks she should divorce Madoff, more as a symbolic gesture than as anything else. Obviously, it would be meaningless since he’s locked up for the rest of his life.

Ruth is a little bit more practical about it. I think she’s already facing considerable legal bills in her continuing litigation with the bankruptcy trustee. She is on a limited budget until those issues are resolved. And she just thinks it’s kind of a pointless thing to do. Will they continue to discuss it? I would predict that they will.

GWEN IFILL: As they have these conversations with you and with others, do you hear them expressing remorse? These two are obviously interested in trying to get back their reputations. But are they expressing remorse for the victims?

DIANA HENRIQUES: Yes.

When I interviewed Ruth, she, interestingly enough, had kind of sealed herself off from the news of Madoff’s fraud as it was unfolding, unlike her son Mark, who just obsessed with every single headline. She couldn’t watch it. She couldn’t read it. So, surprisingly, she told me that she didn’t really understand the scope and the scale of her husband’s fraud until she read my book last spring.

And now she’s just beginning to come to terms with it. And the remorse that she feels, the shame that she feels for what her husband did actually had her in tears at one point during our interview. So, clearly she is — she feels the weight of that very heavily.

Andrew obviously is furious with his father for what he did and expresses his remorse in angrier terms. Madoff himself obviously deeply grieving over what he’s done to his own family. Whether he’s stretching that remorse far enough to cover the damage he’s done to everybody else’s family is hard for me to say.

GWEN IFILL: How — how are things coming in the repayment, the recovery of the lost funds for those victims?

DIANA HENRIQUES: Well, it still looks fairly promising, by the scale of Ponzi schemes. The bankruptcy trustee has collected about $11 billion. He’s distributed about $300 million of that, about five cents on the dollar, for the eligible investors.

And he hopes to be able to distribute the remaining $11 billion and to collect many billions more through lawsuits that he’s filed against people he accuses of having been complicit or negligent in their handling of their dealings with Madoff. Now, those lawsuits have hit a couple of potholes.

In the district court here in New York, Judge Rakoff, a U.S. district judge here, has raised some serious questions about whether the trustee has standing or has the legal right to pursue these cases. Those are going to be very important decisions. We’re watching for some important ones right now that are weighted in the case involving the owners of the New York Mets baseball club.

So, there’s a long road of litigation before we know how successful the trustee is going to be in gathering assets for the victims.

GWEN IFILL: Diana Henriques of The New York Times, thanks so much.

DIANA HENRIQUES: You’re welcome.