Bernard Madoff, age 71, was sentenced to 150 years in prison today for his elaborate, far reaching and long running Ponzi scheme, which defrauded - robbed - hundreds of people and organizations of enormous sums of money.
Perhaps because of the scale of the monies lost, coupled with the notoriety of some of the investors, there has seemed to be limited sympathy for the victims. (Burt Ross has posted several powerful pieces over on The Daily Beast chronicling his experience as one of Madoff’s victims, including the impact statement he read in court today.) But it is important to note that Madoff was a confidence man of the highest order. He was not some shady fly-by-night guy with an office in a strip mall. He founded his investment company back in 1960; was instrumental in the creation of NASDAQ and served as Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Securities Dealers. He had stature of long standing in the Wall Street community and, even more importantly, in the regulatory end of that industry.
It also must be made clear that investors with Madoff received conservative (albeit impossibly steady) returns on their “investments”. They received detailed, completely fictitious statements from Madoff showing their “holdings” in stocks - many of which were blue chip and widows and orphans stocks. Looking at those statements, I’m sure people felt comforted month in and month out that they were investing their hard earned money wisely, with a talented man shepherding their resources, for their children’s educations and their own retirements.
Beyond Madoff as an unparalleled con man, he also betrayed his investors’ trust in a deeply shameful way by targeting fellow Jews. This tremendous Ponzi scheme was simultaneously an Affinity scheme. Madoff worked his way from individuals to non-profit Jewish organizations, ultimately causing tremendous losses to Yeshiva University, Maimonides School and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel’s own Foundation For Humanity, to name a few.
It is not clear how many other individuals who participated in Madoff’s Ponzi/Affinity scheme will be prosecuted. But considering the depth and breadth of the fraudulent activities, I have to believe many, many more criminals will be brought to justice.
I have no sympathy for Madoff. 150 years in a federal penitentiary? The gonnif (thief) should live so long.