The Bernardity of Evil
. District Court in Manhattan yesterday, Bernard Madoff, speaking in a “flat monotone,” read aloud his reasonable-sounding, cool confession of the biggest fraud in history. He repeatedly refers to his “crimes,” his “fraud,” and his “shame,” but it all seems quite impersonal and affectless, as though someone else had committed these terrible acts, and Madoff, the man reading the statement, were merely a chronicler or clerk. The statement conveys no sense of the evil and harm he has done, no sense of true repentance. It is a confession “by the numbers.” Indeed, he admits his monstrous misdoings with the same detached amorality with which he committed them, destroying the wealth and ruining the lives of people who had trusted him with their life’s savings. Analysts say
he made the confession, thus assuring his immediate incarceration and a life sentence, to get his wife and his sons off the hook.
In my view, life behind bars is not a sufficient punishment for what Madoff did. He deserves the death sentence.
Here is the entire statement.
Your Honor, for many years up until my arrest on December 11, 2008, I operated a Ponzi scheme through the investment advisory side of my business, Bernard L. Madoff Securities LLC, which was located here in Manhattan, New York at 885 Third Avenue. I am actually grateful for this first opportunity to publicly speak about my crimes, for which I am so deeply sorry and ashamed. As I engaged in my fraud, I knew what I was doing was wrong, indeed criminal. When I began the Ponzi scheme I believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients from the scheme. However, this proved difficult, and ultimately impossible, and as the years went by I realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come. I am painfully aware that I have deeply hurt many, many people, including the members of my family, my closest friends, business associates and the thousands of clients who gave me their money. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done. I am here today to accept responsibility for my crimes by pleading guilty and, with this plea allocution, explain the means by which I carried out and concealed my fraud.
* * *
The essence of my scheme was that I represented to clients and prospective clients who wished to open investment advisory and individual trading accounts with me that I would invest their money in shares of common stock, options and other securities of large well-known corporations, and upon request, would return to them their profits and principal. Those representations were false because for many years up and until I was arrested on December 11, 2008, I never invested those funds in the securities, as I had promised. Instead, those funds were deposited in a bank account at Chase Manhattan Bank. When clients wished to receive the profits they believed they had earned with me or to redeem their principal, I used the money in the Chase Manhattan bank account that belonged to them or other clients to pay the requested funds. The victims of my scheme included individuals, charitable organizations, trusts, pension funds and hedge funds. Among other means, I obtained their funds through interstate wire transfers they sent from financial institutions located outside New York State to the bank account of my investment advisory business, located here in Manhattan, New York and through mailings delivered by the United States Postal Service and private interstate carriers to my firm here in Manhattan.
I want to emphasize today that while my investment advisory business—the vehicle of my wrongdoing—was part of my firm Bernard L. Madoff Securities, the other businesses my firm engaged in, proprietary trading and market making, were legitimate, profitable and successful in all respects. Those businesses were managed by my brother and two sons.
To the best of my recollection, my fraud began in the early 1990s. At that time, the country was in a recession and this posed a problem for investments in the securities markets. Nevertheless, I had received investment commitments from certain institutional clients and understood that those clients, like all professional investors, expected to see their investments out-perform the market. While I never promised a specific rate of return to any client, I felt compelled to satisfy my clients’ expectations, at any cost. I therefore claimed that I employed an investment strategy I had developed, called a “split strike conversion strategy,” to falsely give the appearance to clients that I had achieved the results I believed they expected.
Through the split-strike conversion strategy, I promised to clients and prospective clients that client funds would be invested in a basket of common stocks within the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index, a collection of the 100 largest publicly traded companies in terms of their market capitalization. I promised that I would select a basket of stocks that would closely mimic the price movements of the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index. I promised that I would opportunistically time these purchases and would be out of the market intermittently, investing client funds during these periods in United States Government-issued securities such as United States Treasury bills. In addition, I promised that as part of the split strike conversion strategy, I would hedge the investments I made in the basket of common stocks by using client funds to buy and sell option contracts related to those stocks, thereby limiting potential client losses caused by unpredictable changes in stock prices. In fact, I never made the investments I promised clients, who believed they were invested with me in the split strike conversion strategy.
To conceal my fraud, I misrepresented to clients, employees and others, that I purchased securities for clients in overseas markets. Indeed, when the United States Securities and Exchange Commission asked me to testify as part of an investigation they were conducting about my investment advisory business, I knowingly gave false testimony under oath to the staff of the SEC on May 19, 2006 that I executed trades of common stock on behalf of my investment advisory clients and that I purchased and sold the equities that were part of my investment strategy in European markets. In that session with the SEC, which took place here in Manhattan, New York, I also knowingly gave false testimony under oath that I had executed options contracts on behalf of my investment advisory clients and that my firm had custody of the assets managed on behalf of my investment advisory clients.
To further cover-up the fact that I had not executed trades on behalf of my investment advisory clients, I knowingly caused false trading confirmations and client account statements that reflected the bogus transactions and positions to be created and sent to clients purportedly involved in the split strike conversion strategy, as well as other individual clients I defrauded who believed they had invested in securities through me. The clients receiving trade confirmations and account statements had no way of knowing by reviewing these documents that I had never engaged in the transactions represented on the statements and confirmations. I knew those false confirmations and account statements would be and were sent to clients through the U.S. mails from my office here in Manhattan.
Another way that I concealed my fraud was through the filing of false and misleading certified audit reports and financial statements with the SEC. I knew that these audit reports and financial statements were false and that they would also be sent to clients. These reports, which were prepared here in the Southern District of New York, among things, falsely reflected my firm’s liabilities as a result of my intentional failure to purchase securities on behalf of my advisory clients.
Similarly, when I recently caused my firm in 2006 to register as an investment advisor with the SEC, I subsequently filed with the SEC a document called a Form ADV Uniform Application for Investment Adviser Registration. On this form, I intentionally and falsely certified under penalty of perjury that Bernard L. Madoff Investment and Securities had custody of my advisory clients’ securities. That was not true and I knew it when I completed and filed the form with the SEC, which I did from my office on the 17th floor of 855 Third Avenue, here in Manhattan.
In more recent years, I used yet another method to conceal my fraud. I wired money between the United States and the United Kingdom to make it appear as though there were actual securities transactions executed on behalf of my investment advisory clients. Specifically, I had money transferred from the U.S. bank account of my investment advisory business to the London bank account of Madoff Securities International Ltd., a United Kingdom corporation that was an affiliate of my business in New York. Madoff Securities International Ltd. was principally engaged in proprietary trading and was a legitimate, honestly run and operated business.
Nevertheless, to support my false claim that I purchased and sold securities for my investment advisory clients in European markets, I caused money from the bank account of my fraudulent advisory business, located here in Manhattan, to be wire transferred to the London bank account of Madoff Securities International Limited.
There were also times in recent years when I had money, which had originated in the New York Chase Manhattan bank account of my investment advisory business, transferred from the London bank account of Madoff Securities International Ltd. to the Bank of New York operating bank account of my firm’s legitimate proprietary and market making business. That Bank of New York account was located in New York. I did this as a way of ensuring that the expenses associated with the operation of the fraudulent investment advisory business would not be paid from the operations of the legitimate proprietary trading and market making businesses.
In connection with the purported trades, I caused the fraudulent investment advisory side of my business to charge the investment advisory clients $0.04 per share as a commission. At times in the last few years, these commissions were transferred from Chase Manhattan bank account of the fraudulent investment advisory side of my firm to the account at the Bank of New York, which was the operating account for the legitimate side of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities—the proprietary trading and market making side of my firm. I did this to ensure that the expenses associated with the operation of my fraudulent investment advisory business would not be paid from the operations of the legitimate proprietary trading and market making businesses. It is my belief that the salaries and bonuses of the personnel involved in the operation of the legitimate side of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities were funded by the operations of the firm’s successful proprietary trading and market making businesses.
Your Honor, I hope I have conveyed with some particularity in my own words, the crimes I committed and the means by which I committed them.
[end of Madoff statement.]
CULTURAL LITERACY ALERT: The title of this entry, “The Bernardity of Evil,” is a play on Hannah Arendt’s phrase, The Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt’s book about Adolf Eichmann.
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Paul Nachman writes:
Regarding “the banality of evil,” I certainly knew the source. Specifically, I think it was Arendt writing about Eichmann (Oh, now I see that you said that—but I did know it!), not that I’ve read the book.
But that’s what cultural literacy is about. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve read the book. It means you know the title and have some idea what the book is about.
However, it’s not established whether cultural literacy requires knowing the definition of cultural literacy. :-)
Correction: The title of Arendt’s book was Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Here is Wikipedia’s article on it.
Also, Wikipedia’s account of criticisms of Hannah Arendt’s book is worth reading.
Ben W. writes:
“This man does not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison. He deserves to be executed”
Can you elaborate? Technically he hasn’t done anything that legally merits the death penalty. Were you being emotional here?
Obviously this could not be within existing law. I’m speaking of justice, what he deserves, if we had a law that matched the punishment to the crime. The deliberate deception and betrayal of trust on such a scale over so many years, the massive harm he did to thousands of people who had trusted him with their money, makes it a unique crime. To me the death sentence seems the only appropriate punishment for an evil and a crime of this magnitude.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 13, 2009 11:09 PM | Send