The Madoff investment scandal was a major case of stock and securities fraud discovered in late 2008. In December of that year, Bernie Madoff, the former NASDAQ chairman and founder of the Wall Street firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, admitted that the wealth management arm of his business was an elaborate multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
Madoff founded Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960, and was its chairman until his arrest. The firm employed Madoff’s brother Peter as senior managing director and chief compliance officer, Peter’s daughter Shana Madoff as rules and compliance officer and attorney, and Madoff’s sons Mark and Andrew. Peter was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Mark died by suicide exactly two years after his father’s arrest.
Alerted by his sons, federal authorities arrested Madoff on December 11, 2008. On March 12, 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal crimes and admitted to operating the largest private Ponzi scheme in history. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison with restitution of $170 billion. According to the original federal charges, Madoff said that his firm had “liabilities of approximately US$50 billion”. Prosecutors estimated the size of the fraud to be $64.8 billion, based on the amounts in the accounts of Madoff’s 4,800 clients as of November 30, 2008. Ignoring opportunity costs and taxes paid on fictitious profits, half of Madoff’s direct investors lost no money, with Madoff’s repeated (and repeatedly ignored) whistleblower, Harry Markopolos, estimating that at least $35 billion of the money Madoff claimed to have stolen never really existed, but was simply fictional profits he reported to his clients.
Investigators determined that others were involved in the scheme. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was criticized for not investigating Madoff more thoroughly. Questions about his firm were raised as early as 1999. The legitimate trading arm of Madoff’s business that was run by his two sons was one of the top market makers on Wall Street, and in 2008 was the sixth-largest.
Madoff’s personal and business asset freeze created a chain reaction throughout the world’s business and philanthropic community, forcing many organizations to at least temporarily close, including the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, the Picower Foundation, and the JEHT Foundation.
Madoff started his firm in 1960 as a penny stock trader with $5,000, earned from working as a lifeguard and sprinkler installer. His fledgling business began to grow with the assistance of his father-in-law, accountant Saul Alpern, who referred a circle of friends and their families. Initially, the firm made markets (quoted bid and ask prices) via the National Quotation Bureau‘s Pink Sheets. To compete with firms that were members of the New York Stock Exchange trading on the stock exchange’s floor, his firm began using innovative computer information technology to disseminate quotes. After a trial run, the technology that the firm helped develop became the NASDAQ. At one point, Madoff Securities was the largest buying-and-selling “market maker” at the NASDAQ.
He was active in the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), a self-regulatory securities industry organization, serving as the chairman of the board of directors and on the board of governors.
In 1992, The Wall Street Journal described him:
… one of the masters of the off-exchange “third market” and the bane of the New York Stock Exchange. He has built a highly profitable securities firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which siphons a huge volume of stock trades away from the Big Board. The $740 million average daily volume of trades executed electronically by the Madoff firm off the exchange equals 9% of the New York exchange’s. Mr. Madoff’s firm can execute trades so quickly and cheaply that it actually pays other brokerage firms a penny a share to execute their customers’ orders, profiting from the spread between bid and asked prices that most stocks trade for.— Randall Smith, Wall Street Journal
Several family members worked for him. His younger brother, Peter, was senior managing director and chief compliance officer, and Peter’s daughter, Shana Madoff, was the compliance attorney. Madoff’s sons, Mark and Andrew, worked in the trading section, along with Charles Weiner, Madoff’s nephew. Andrew Madoff invested his own money in his father’s fund, but Mark stopped in about 2001.
Federal investigators believe the fraud in the investment management division and advisory division may have begun in the 1970s. However, Madoff himself stated his fraudulent activities began in the 1990s.
In the 1980s, Madoff’s market-maker division traded up to 5% of the total volume made on the New York Stock Exchange. Madoff was “the first prominent practitioner” of payment for order flow, paying brokers to execute their clients’ orders through his brokerage, a practice some have called a “legal kickback“. This practice gave Madoff the distinction of being the largest dealer in NYSE-listed stocks in the U.S., trading about 15% of transaction volume. Academics have questioned the ethics of these payments. Madoff has argued that these payments did not alter the price that the customer received. He viewed payments for order flow as a normal business practice: “If your girlfriend goes to buy stockings at a supermarket, the racks that display those stockings are usually paid for by the company that manufactured the stockings. Order flow is an issue that attracted a lot of attention but is grossly overrated.”
By 2000, Madoff Securities, one of the top traders of US securities, held approximately $300 million in assets. The business occupied three floors of the Lipstick Building in Manhattan, with the investment management division, referred to as the “hedge fund“, employing a staff of approximately 24. Madoff also ran a branch office in London that employed 28 people, separate from Madoff Securities. The company handled investments for his family of approximately £80 million. Two remote cameras installed in the London office permitted Madoff to monitor events from New York.
Final weeks and collapse
The scheme began to unravel in the fall of 2008, when the general market downturn accelerated. Madoff had previously come close to collapse in the second half of 2005 after Bayou Group, a group of hedge funds, was exposed as a Ponzi scheme that used a bogus accounting firm to misrepresent its performance. By November, investors had requested $105 million in redemptions, though Madoff’s Chase account only had $13 million. Madoff only survived by moving money from his broker-dealer’s account into his Ponzi scheme account. Eventually, he drew on $342 million from his broker-dealer’s credit lines to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat through 2006. Markopolos wrote that he suspected Madoff was on the brink of insolvency as early as June 2005, when his team learned he was seeking loans from banks. By then, at least two major banks were no longer willing to lend money to their customers to invest it with Madoff.
In June 2008, Markopolos’ team uncovered evidence that Madoff was accepting leveraged money. To Markopolos’ mind, Madoff was running out of cash and needed to increase his promised returns to keep the scheme going. As it turned out, redemption requests from skittish investors ramped up in the wake of the collapse of Bear Stearns in March 2008. The trickle became a flood when Lehman Brothers was forced into bankruptcy in September, coinciding with the near-collapse of American International Group.
As the market’s decline accelerated, investors tried to withdraw $7 billion from the firm. Unknown to them, however, Madoff had simply deposited his clients’ money into his business account at Chase Manhattan Bank, and paid customers out of that account when they requested withdrawals. To pay off those investors, Madoff needed new money from other investors. However, in November, the balance in the account dropped to dangerously low levels. Only $300 million in new money had come in, but customers had withdrawn $320 million. He had just barely enough in the account to meet his redemption payroll on November 19. Even with a rush of new investors who believed Madoff was one of the few funds that was still doing well, it still wasn’t enough to keep up with the avalanche of withdrawals.
In the weeks prior to his arrest, Madoff struggled to keep the scheme afloat. In November 2008, Madoff Securities International (MSIL) in London made two fund transfers to Bernard Madoff Investment Securities of approximately $164 million. MSIL had neither customers nor clients, and there is no evidence that it conducted any trades on behalf of third parties.
Madoff received $250 million around December 1, 2008, from Carl J. Shapiro, a 95-year-old Boston philanthropist and entrepreneur who was one of Madoff’s oldest friends and biggest financial backers. On December 5, he accepted $10 million from Martin Rosenman, president of Rosenman Family LLC, who later sought to recover the never-invested $10 million, deposited in a Madoff account at JPMorgan, wired six days before Madoff’s arrest. Judge Lifland ruled that Rosenman was “indistinguishable” from any other Madoff client, so there was no basis for giving him special treatment to recover funds. The judge separately declined to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Hadleigh Holdings, which claimed it entrusted $1 million to the Madoff firm three days before his arrest.
Madoff asked others for money in the final weeks before his arrest, including Wall Street financier Kenneth Langone, whose office was sent a 19-page pitch book, purportedly created by the staff at the Fairfield Greenwich Group. Madoff said he was raising money for a new investment vehicle, between $500 million and $1 billion for exclusive clients, was moving quickly on the venture, and wanted an answer by the following week. Langone declined. In November, Fairfield announced the creation of a new feeder fund. However, it was far too little and far too late.
By the week after Thanksgiving 2008, Madoff knew he was at the end of his tether. The Chase account, which at one point in 2008 had well over $5 billion, was down to only $234 million. With banks having all but stopped lending to anyone, he knew he could not even begin to borrow enough money to meet the outstanding redemption requests. On December 4, he told Frank DiPascali, who oversaw the Ponzi scheme’s operation, that he was finished. He directed DiPascali to use the remaining balance in the Chase account to cash out the accounts of relatives and favored investors. On December 9, he told his brother Peter that he was on the brink of collapse.
The following morning, December 10, he suggested to his sons, Mark and Andrew, that the firm pay out over $170 million in bonuses two months ahead of schedule, from $200 million in assets that the firm still had. According to the complaint, Mark and Andrew, reportedly unaware of the firm’s pending insolvency, confronted their father, asking him how the firm could pay bonuses to employees if it could not pay investors. At that point, Madoff asked his sons to follow him to his apartment, where he admitted that he was “finished”, and that the asset management arm of the firm was in fact a Ponzi scheme – as he put it, “one big lie”. Mark and Andrew then reported him to the authorities.
Madoff intended to take a week to wind up the firm’s operations before his sons alerted authorities. Instead, Mark and Andrew immediately called lawyers. When the sons revealed their father’s plan to use the remaining money to pay relatives and favored investors, their lawyers put them in touch with federal prosecutors and the SEC. Madoff was arrested the following morning.
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