So what do you think about Bernard Madoff and how he managed to get away with it for so long?
As a relative of a former Madoff client, and a computer guru, I remember examining a Madoff end of month statement wherein I thought it was very strange to be printed on a dot matrix printer, an early 1980's method. Then, on behalf of my relative, I spoke with a Madoff employee, over the phone, asking if we could see the daily purchase & sale, monthly statements, and equity balances upon the Madoff client web site. I was told that such capability did not exist.
I immediately told my relative that, in this day & age -- then being about three years ago -- he should immediately remove all his assets from Madoff, as Madoff was undoubtedly a Mickey Mouse operation that could not be trusted, as no broker dealer, that is, NONE, printed their monthy statements on dot matrix printers, and most all have available online equity statements for end of day viewing, particularly if one has their own brokerage account.
My relative followed my advice and withdrew his several million dollar valued account that he had had with Madoff for some 17 years at that time. Today, that account, having been then parked in gold shares, is up some 55% to date.
New York, NY
Good start Frontline. In reading the comments left there is a lot of resentment to towards the SEC that I do not agree with. I remember seeing Madoff testify before the congressional finance committee on the very subject of hedge fund disclosure. Of course he was against it. These investments are limited to those with large amounts to invest. It is common knowledge that hedge funds are of greater risk due to there minimally regulated status. If a finger is to be pointed it should be at congress for not providing the necessary laws for the SEC to enforce and the investors who seem to a T to have grown amnesia to the added risks they knowing took on.
As a subscriber of PBS and a fan of Frontline. I feel that you covered many of the important issues such as the SEC dropping the ball and the failure of other regulatory bodies.Coincidently My son was out to dinner with several heavy hitters from wall street investment firms two nights before Bernard Madoffs confession. He mentioned that Bernie was managing his widowed mothers money.They responded by saying "she is in good hands, he is the gold standard of wall street" She is very lucky. Granted I knew little about investing and like Judy Stone stated, I must have been one of the "dumbest people alive" particularly since I was not getting close to 20% a year. Ms Stone do not believe all that you read. The press is a gold mine of misinformation. This deception goes deeper than you might suppose.
Armonk , New York
How is he different from AIG, Citibank or FreddieMac? They likewise are giant Ponzi schemes that collapsed when the market fell. I heard one of the commentators say that Madoff could have lived out his entire life without getting "caught." As long as people believed he still had their money then it was true. As soon as one doubted that premise it was all over. Madoff never believed he was a crook. He was just playing the same magic money game they all play.
Camden, New Jersey
It is so frustrating to work so hard for all you have only to be taken advantage of by finacial institutions. Be they Bernie Madoff, mortgage brokers, mutual fund managers or the state and Federal governments. Whose standard of living is rising? Those scamming the everday person out of their few extra monthly dollars. Where is the accountability? It seems as one rises up the earnings chain accountability and transparency disappear. Government entities have wasted hard earned tax dollars. States, due to lack of fiscal responsibilty, find themselves basically bancrupt. Tax payers, maybe too trusting tax payers, are losing their homes thanks to the mortgage industries greed. If a tax payer also has a 401(k) then he/she has lost even more. If one was foolish enough to become indebted to a credit card company, that person is hurting even more. If one had personal savings either in a savings account, money market, or mutual fund then one has lost even more. O, did I mention your lucky if your still working. Social security will be insolvent in a decade or so yet workers must continue to pay into this insolvent fund. God help anyone not in public service or wealthy that should become sick with any serious disease. Medical coverage? Our employers' plans change yearly as does the coverage, deductibles, etc. Kids? Schools continue to be badly underfunded. How is the next generation to do any better? What is happening? Where is our government for the people by the people? Why do special interests votes count so much more than the everyday person? I guess it comes down to money and greed and a lack of interest in the future and betterment of all Americans as well as humankind.
Simple greed. That's all it was. The investors and the companies that sent the money to Madoff were all crazed by greed. Nothing more, nothing less. Each chose to ignore the obvious and now they are crying about their "loss".
No way. Madoff should go to jail, but if you were blind enough to take the profits and only complain when the fraud was admitted (the SEC knew it was there before), you should sit down and HUSH! GO AWAY! YOU CAUSED IT. Wonder what they will tell their children? We were taken advantage of? Yeah, likely.
olive branch, ms
The FRONTLINE edition on Bernie Madoff reinforces the undeniable fact that a one hour TV show is no substitute for a well written print accounts. The online references to your readings and links gave me access to some excellent published articles on this topic. Thanks.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
FRONTLINE's Madoff readings and links section is here.
I find it ludicrous that SEC claimed off the record that the reason it didn't catch Madoff sooner was that the agency was "under-staffed and under-resourced" What a load of baloney.
Markopolous virtually handed SEC the Madoff case on a silver platter; in effect, he was SEC's special investigator by proxy. Markopolous did the heavy lifting by providing a long list of red flags, and all SEC had to do was follow up on them. It's an agency that's inept, negligent, or corrupt--perhaps all three. "Thanks" to the financial crisis for exposing Bernie Madoff; no thanks to SEC.
Will we have to relive "Weekend at Bernie's" over and over?
Every 7 years at an annual rate of 12% (interest compounded) your original investment will double. All Bernie's client's who were in for this period of time would have at least received all their original money back less federal and state taxes. Those who were gettilng up to 18% and were in longer would have done better. It would appear they spent all their principal believing it was income. Yes it was a horrific situation but untill we figuare out where all the money went could we not suppose it went back to the "investors" ?? Alot of investors have been wiped out or lost huge percentages of their portfolios just by the deregulation on wall street last year. If you were saving in a retirement plan you might not even receive your original contributions back. Bernie is just another brick in the wall of the "You only live once, so you might as well live well-- till you get caught", mentality.
vancouver, british columbia
There is a portion of the story that Frontline never touched. In spite of having at least some responsibility in the matter, the Federal government is one of the big winners. Along with various State taxing authorities they have be collecting billions of dollars in taxes over the past 25 years, money they are very reluctant to return.
Most investors are not covered by SIPC insurance and the recovery of taxes is all that is between many and a retirement in poverty after a lifetime of hard work.
Irving Picard, the trustee attempting to recover assets can go back six years to recover the gains he calls "ill gotten" from victims. Most state governments have no trouble keeping all the taxes victims ever paid. Apparently, keeping the taxes paid on income that never existed is not a problem for our political leaders.
park ridge, new jersey
Great program. Why? Because it hit on the key reason why this happened, why he got away with it for so long and who else was involved that made it possible.
When giant "feeder funds" are paid millions upon millions to feed their clients money into a "fund" and the incentive or rather requirement is don't ask questions, what do you think is going to happen??
And that goes for everyone else involved...
Greed is the reason.
End of story. Period.
Your program illustrated that the SEC can't be trusted to protect investors. A key point you missed is that the financial industry also has to be held accountable. You showed some who seem complicit but the industry as a whole has no stake in policing their own. As it is SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corp), the industry's own insurance arm, is capped at a level set in 1978 ($500,000) and is woefully underfunded. If congress mandated a cost of living increase to 2008 dollars ($1.6-million)and the industy had to pony-up, they might just take self-policing more seriously. To have a bunch of pomposs, the investor-should-have-known responses is infuriting when Madoff had a virtual stamp of approval from the SEC going back to 1992 and no one other than Harry Markopolis voiced suspicions. But then why should anyone in an industry that no one holds accountable? Clearly confience in the industry isn't on anyone's radar.
I usually fully enjoy Frontline, but I was disappointed by this program. There was nothing really new, there were few instances of hard questioning and the key issues were not addressed; 1) Why did the SEC fail to heed the clear warning signs and ignore the analyses of Harry Markopolos? How could they clear Madoff? Understaffing as an excuse is preposterous. Are criminal charges being explored against any SEC officials and employees and if not, why not? 2) Who inside the company, his sons, his wife, employees, were involved? 3) Where is the money? I do hope you follow-up this program with a more aggressive sequel.
Pine Brook, NJ
To Delia Smith: Shame on you! I am in my 80s, a widow. My husband was ateacher. We retired in our early 60s. All of our savings and IRAs went intoMadoff because the SEC gave them a clean bill of health. Furthermore, we did not make astronomical returns as you claim you saw on the statements. We were getting 10 to 11% on our investment, on which we paid full taxes onshort term capital gains. Hedge funds and investors on Wall Street were earning considerably more. ... I hope that you or anyone else does not have to go through with what the victims are suffering.
I am a former Madoff investor. We have a proactive group of over 400 other investors that have come together in an effort to find recovery. Together, we offer support and knowledge. This is a secure group that empowers victims to change the system that allowed this fraud to happen and allows them to unite in restitution. This effort will help us go from victims to victors.If you are a victim, or know someone who is, please go to: bernardmadoffvictims.org. We feel there is strength in numbers and as such, have made contact with many legislators in an effort to get fair and just recovery. ...
Ronnie Sue Ambrosino