Diana B. Henriques, a financial reporter for the New York Times, has written an interesting, but hardly definitive, account of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme which surfaced in December 2008. Among the questions she was unable to answer were: when did Madoff actually begin his financial chicanery, precisely how much money did his victims lose, and were Madoff’s wife and two sons complicit.
Henriques makes a good but necessarily tentative case that, in fact, they were innocent. Madoff’s eldest son, Mark, was so shamed by the revelations concerning his father that he committed suicide in December, 2010, soon after agreeing with his wife that she and her children should change their last name to Morgan.
Madoff was a swindler par excellence. He convinced many of the world’s most astute financial advisors and institutions that he was able, both in good times and bad, to make steady investment gains of around ten percent per year. This is, of course, impossible. He also shrewdly appealed to the status strivings of the gullible rich by convincing them that he did not accept everyone as investors, and those that he did should be grateful for being granted entry into this exclusive club.
The Madoff scandal particularly impacted American Jewry. Madoff and most of his biggest investors were Jews, many of them members of the Palm Beach Country Club, a predominately Jewish watering hole in Florida. Jewish organizations which had invested with Madoff were severely affected by the scandal. The American Jewish Congress had to close its doors, and the activities of other Jewish organizations had to be scaled back. These included the foundation established by Elie Wiesel.
Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, feared the scandal had created a “perfect storm for the anti-Semites.” In fact, it was an example of the dog that did not bark. There is no evidence that anti-Semitism significantly increased because of it, and, in any case, anti-Semites did not need the example of Madoff to confirm their preconception that Jews were mercenary and dishonest. Thankfully, most Americans believed otherwise.