Lest investors forget too soon.
Just over seven years ago, financial adviser Bernie Madoff was arrested for fraud so massive that he has since become known as the perpetrator of the largest Ponzi scheme in history. That's a competitive title, so take note.
In June of 2009, Madoff was sentenced to a maximum term of 150 years. He's about 5 percent of the way into that term so far. Thousands of investors got scammed by Madoff over many years. After New York, where Madoff ran his Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC for decades, the greatest number of victims of his Ponzi scheme are concentrated in Florida.
Now that enough time has passed to push Madoff to the backburner of financial news, his story will be resurrected in an ABC TV miniseries, Madoff, starting at 8 p.m. EST tonight and finishing on Thursday. Richard Dreyfuss (who was in Clearwater only weeks ago to discuss the famous movie Jaws in which he starred) plays Madoff. By the reviews so far, he seems to pull it off handsomely as evening entertainment.
The TV drama's "investor beware" theme could be a stronger message, but television shows rarely let something so serious get in the way of good ol' storytelling. "Madoff was just a poor boy from Queens with a dream," says the New York Times review of the miniseries. "Was it his fault that people are so easy to fool?"
Reuters reports that the amount of money missing from Madoff's client accounts, including fabricated gains, approached $65 billion.
Madoff seems to blame his own greedy clients as much as himself. "My investors were sophisticated people smart enough to know what was going on and how money was made, but they still invested with me without any explanations," a behind-bars Madoff said in a Wall Street Journal interview.
Based on courtroom lists of swindled investors, the Miami Herald estimated that one in five of Madoff's Ponzi victims lived in Florida. The court document that lists Madoff's customers runs 162 pages of small type. It mentions 13 Tampa potential victims and tony addresses like Bayshore Boulevard and Avila. Still more potential victims were in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
In the best book on Madoff's escapade, The Wizard of Lies, New York Times financial reporter Diana Henriques wrote that Madoff was a creature of a Wall Street culture he helped create: "a world that was greedy for riskless gain."
To understand the Madoff scandal, she wrote, we must realize investors' growing dependency on a market "increasingly crucial" to personal security but one also "exponentially more difficult for most of us to understand."
Madoff, she noted, "was reassuringly fluent in a new market language we all wished we could have learned or pretended we already knew. He seemed warmly comfortable in a strange new place that left us feeling cold and anxious. If he was an evil wizard, his power was vastly enhanced by the fact that we all moved into the castle with him."
Madoff succeeded in his scam for so long because he was very good at what he did. But too many folks who invested with him did not want to know too much, turning a blind eye as long as the returns appeared so lucrative. Until they weren't.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.