Mad­of­f’s Oth­er Secret: Love, Mon­ey, Bernie, and Me

Sheryl Wein­stein
  • Review
By – September 13, 2011

If only the walls on floors sev­en­teen, eigh­teen, and nine­teen of New York’s Lip­stick Build­ing, where Bernard Mad­off had his offices, could talk! Then we might learn who abet­ted him in his Ponzi scheme and when these crimes began. These are the cen­tral ques­tions in these first books about, in Jer­ry Oppenheimer’s asser­tion, the most reviled thief who ever lived.”

The dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact which l’affaire Mad­off had on Jew­ish phil­an­thropy and image con­tin­ues to rever­ber­ate. Orga­ni­za­tions such as Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty and Hadas­sah, and icons such as Elie Weisel, were caught up in this scan­dal. Thou­sands of ordi­nary investors who felt com­fort­able invest­ing with some­one they felt they could trust because some­one with whom they shared meals and social evenings also trust­ed him were dev­as­tat­ed. The reign­ing emo­tions for this com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­ue to be anger and finan­cial ruin, loss of trust and embar­rass­ment, which explains why these books may be of inter­est to Jew­ish Book World read­ers. 

Andrew Kirtz­man exam­ines Madoff’s life, from his teenage years to his arrest and sen­tenc­ing. He focus­es on the unre­mark­able life Mad­off led, reflect­ing his assump­tion of opu­lence and excess through the words of some of his class­mates, investors, and asso­ciates. The most com­pelling char­ac­ter he intro­duces to the read­er is Har­ry Markopoulous, whose sus­pi­cions led him ear­ly on to tip off the Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC) to the like­li­hood that Mad­off was a fraud and a crook, only to be debriefed, thanked, and shown the door.” Kirtz­man describes Madoff’s self-serv­ing expla­na­tion, that he was a good man who got into trou­ble late in his career and couldn’t get out of it,” but this was as fraud­u­lent as the state­ments he issued to his investors. Kirtz­man con­cludes that the facts point to his launch­ing his crim­i­nal oper­a­tion when he was in his twen­ties,” ful­ly fifty years ear­li­er. 

The author’s tal­ent as a reporter is evi­dent in this excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the human dimen­sions of the Mad­off dis­as­ter. He reveals his revul­sion for Mad­off, par­tic­u­lar­ly when he notes that the elder­ly cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­er Carl Shapiro treat­ed him like a mem­ber of his own fam­i­ly: Bernie preyed on that loy­al­ty to help sal­vage his crim­i­nal enter­prise” by solic­it­ing addi­tion­al funds even at the end, when he knew that there was vir­tu­al­ly no chance that Shapiro would ever see his mon­ey again. 

Erin Arved­lund reach­es a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion regard­ing the longevi­ty of Madoff’s crim­i­nal enter­prise in her book. She asks, “…was there a time when [his invest­ment advi­so­ry busi­ness] wasn’t an out­right fraud? Prob­a­bly not.” This vol­ume is more tech­ni­cal

and sophis­ti­cat­ed in its analy­sis of how the scheme func­tioned, how hedge funds and the stock mar­kets in gen­er­al oper­ate, and also how Mad­off was able to gain the trust of his clients in so extra­or­di­nary a way. Regard­ing why so few poten­tial investors applied due dili­gence before sur­ren­der­ing their mon­ey, she cites Len Fish­er, author of Rock, Paper, Scis­sors: Game The­o­ry in Every­day Life: Some of his investors sus­pect­ed that Mad­off was cheat­ing, but they con­tin­ued to invest because they were ben­e­fit­ing from his cheat­ing.” In oth­er words, greed was the engine that pro­pelled both Mad­off and his investors, with dis­as­trous results, although there were some poten­tial investors who chose not to trust their mon­ey to Mad­off. 

Arved­lund, an inves­tiga­tive reporter who wrote a now oft-quot­ed 2001 arti­cle about Mad­off for Bar­rons, shows how the SEC missed twen­ty-eight red flags” that point­ed to Madoff’s guilt when Markopolous first dis­closed his belief that Mad­off Invest­ment Secu­ri­ties LLC is the world’s largest Ponzi scheme.” She con­cludes that the SEC’s prob­lem was its fail­ure to employ peo­ple who had been trained in finance or bank­ing — those who knew how Wall Street ripped peo­ple off,” rely­ing instead on lawyers, both those who were con­sci­en­tious and those who were mark­ing time until they could find bet­ter pay­ing posi­tions as Wall Street attor­neys.” Arved­lund reveals names and skill­ful­ly details just how wide­spread Madoff’s reach extend­ed. This is a read­able and inter­est­ing book. 

Jer­ry Oppenheimer’s treat­ment of Bernie Mad­off is more col­lo­qui­al. He attrib­ut­es Bernie’s thiev­ery dis­hon­esty to his hav­ing learned his way around the sys­tem— even when he was a young punk grow­ing up in Queens.” Oppenheimer’s lan­guage is col­or­ful, as when he recounts Madoff’s hav­ing been excused from his two-year Army com­mit­ment because of an ulcer — real, imag­ined or invent­ed,” con­clud­ing with, For Bernie, who would cheat thou­sands of investors out of bil­lions and even cheat on his wife, it was no sur­prise that he would also suc­cess­ful­ly rob Uncle Sam out of two years of his life.” Oppen­heimer cov­ers famil­iar ground, and focus­es atten­tion on the peo­ple who knew and dealt with Mad­off, but as enter­tain­ing as his lan­guage is, Oppen­heimer offers no insights into Madoff’s motives or meth­ods, beyond what is appar­ent from the nature of his crimes. This is strict­ly a quick-and-easy read. 

Sheryl Wein­stein, for­mer chief finan­cial offi­cer of Hadas­sah, has writ­ten a tell-all con­fes­sion­al that is nei­ther sala­cious nor insight­ful. Had the two main char­ac­ters been fic­tion­al cre­ations, one would call them one-dimen­sion­al. We learn that Bernie was a mid­dle-child who did not speak kind­ly of his old­er sis­ter. He has facial tics and Wein­stein believes that he suf­fers from Tourette’s syn­drome or some oth­er neu­ro­log­i­cal mal­a­dy. And he is not well-endowed, sex­u­al­ly. So what? For what rea­son, oth­er than to earn back mon­ey which she had lost from her per­son­al account, did she feel com­pelled to write this sopho­moric book? Wein­stein tells us she had been mar­ried a long time and felt con­flict­ed about being unfaith­ful.” And when she and Bernie ate in the restau­rant at one of the hotels at which they had their trysts, Bernie taught me about Dijon­naise sauce that night.” Real­ly. I don’t think there will be a movie of this book any­time soon.

Addi­tion­al books fea­tured in this review:

Noel Kriftch­er was a pro­fes­sor and admin­is­tra­tor at Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served as Super­in­ten­dent of New York City’s Brook­lyn & Stat­en Island High Schools district.

Discussion Questions