After the conclusion of the ABC miniseries “Madoff” I have many questions that I don’t expect answers to. For those unfamiliar, Bernie Madoff stole $50 billion of money from wealthy individuals, middle-class families and charities while engaging in a Ponzi scheme that was the biggest in U.S. history. Much can be made of people giving millions, and in a few cases billions, to someone without doing due diligence. Apparently when someone has built enough credibility and a track record of success, trust begins to trump reason or standard logic, which “Madoff” showed repeatedly.
I actually don’t feel terribly sorry for people that lost their money with him. Investing in pre-internet days doesn’t allow for the same levels of confirmation in your investments (anyone can see their portfolios online now)whereas you would’ve gotten mailed a statement that you assumed to be true regarding your account. However, if you’re investing your retirement account in the mid-2000’s and you don’t stay on top of it, you aren’t smart. In fact you might just be dumb, and possibly very dumb.
I don’t know if it’s a compliment or an insult that many of these people lost more money than I will ever have in my lifetime. Four different parties in “Madoff” invested over $1 billion, while many others invested millions. What I’m constantly taken back to isn’t the individual lives affected but just the sheer waste and staggering dollar signs involved.
This story simply runs too deep to address all of it, but another theme that I was pulled to that maybe became the overarching theme to me was the destruction of his own family. I found out between watching parts one and two that one of his sons committed suicide in the aftermath, which didn’t make it any easier to watch play out. Mark and Andrew, both sons are now dead while Bernie sits in jail and wife Ruth lives in solitude.
Unlike many others and as far-fetched as it may seem I actually never questioned whether Andrew and Mark knew, or Ruth. Husbands don’t get too in-depth with wives about their business proceedings as it pertains to clients. Meanwhile Mark and Andrew worked in a separate division of the company so as to insure they would never interact with the Ponzi scheme or come to understand what the firm was actually doing. A repeated theme in the show was Mark begging to join his father’s side of the business only to be turned away. This was Bernie’s way of protecting his sons from suffering the same fate he knew would one day find him.
“Madoff” also portrayed how badly Bernie’s sons wanted to become him and carry on the legendary family name. Once that was tarnished, they tried to continue their lives, both marrying and having kids. But the scorn and ridicule that stemmed from everyone believing they were complicit in their father’s crimes wore on them. One scene after Mark claimed to be over what people thought of them showed him walking downtown and seeing in a storefront window a cartoon-like costume of his father. Coupled with the fact that getting jobs and doing business in the city Bernie once owned proved nearly impossible now, Mark gave up. He had one suicide attempt before, but exactly two years after his dad’s arrest he was found hung in his NYC apartment.
That’s the saddest part. The lives affected. Over what? People who made ungodly sums of money wanting to make a little bit more (for the most part) losing everything. When anyone says money means power they mean it. Or like Gordon Gekko, “How much money, how much is enough?” To which Gordon says “More.” When watching “Madoff” I couldn’t help but wonder if a family as rich as the Madoff’s would almost prefer we live in a society devoid of money, or at least the importance of it and prefer we barter.
Bernie’s story is like any other gangster’s. Once you’re in, you’re in. There’s no telling when or how he decided a Ponzi scheme was worth it, but as soon as he did he was in too deep. And the only way out of that, like any other gang, is death or prison. In which case his death was prison.