Friday, December 19, 2008

Madoff Mania

Bernie Madoff in his penthouse apartment last night, watching TV. 9:00 PM.
12/19. Yesterday was a not very cold three-days-from-winter day in New York.

Down at Swifty’s the lunchtime conversation
was about ... one guess ... Bernie Madoff and his Made Off with Billions. The discovery is still on-going for as widely revered as he was in his world, he was unknown, or almost, to so many others ... and, it turns out, even to those who knew him. Or thought they knew him.

The conversations take three different routes: The How-Could-He, the Who-Lost-All-Their Money, and What’s-Going-To-Happen-to-Him.

There is a large contingent of people who are gleeful about the losses of others. There is another contingent who would like to see the worst happen to the man. Then there is an even larger contingent still confounded that he would do such a thing. To his friends, to the people who loved and respected and trusted him. Somehow there’s the life lesson for all of us in that last one. How could he?

You wonder. Who is this man? What kind of man is this man? The image you see in the papers is that of one who looks sanguine. Self-assured and self-possessed. Of course we can’t read minds. But after making off with tens of billions of Other People’s Money, he ironically appears to be most concerned about his privacy.

He asked someone in the William Wayne shop ( in the ground floor of his building if he could use their access to the building’s elevators so that he could avoid the press and paparazzi waiting to ambush him. His request was refused.
The Madoff penthouse by day.
Someone told me that among the crowd congregated outside his building was a man who threw a punch at him. There are others who suggest that he’s endangering himself by going out in public. There are others who are convinced that some distraught now-former client will want to kill him. Or that he wlll do it himself. But this is all what in psychology is called transference. We always think we know what it’s like for someone else. But we don’t; we aren’t someone else.

In reality, Mr. Bernie Madoff may be what is popularly known as a sociopath, someone who, in the words of Mr. Random House is “a person who, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” Unusual but not, we all know the kind. Small animals and children are especially aware of them, although always, even at times fatally, confounded. In the case of Bernie Madoff, scores of bright and intelligent individuals didn’t know and now are truly confounded. Men, brothers, who knew him, who were grateful to know him not because he could make them and so many others so much money but because they liked him, they respected him; some even admired him.

Betrayal is a sociopathic condition, kids.

Yesterday’s esteemed Jewish Daily Forward ran a piece by Anthony Weiss about the man and his obvious sociopathology:

(excerpted) Mark Seal, a longtime veteran of Jewish organizations, recalls watching Madoff make his pitch twice to Jewish organizations — once in the early 1990s, and once 10 years later. Each time, Seal said, he was struck by Madoff’s combination of confidence and low-key charm, and by the sense of familiarity he conveyed.

“His pitch was one part technology and one part record and one part that he was a lovely guy and you felt that — it’s funny, in retrospect — you felt a certain amount of integrity,” Seal told the Forward. “That was his presentation, in essence — his reputation and his personality.”

Madoff’s sterling reputation, his affable personality and his apparent financial acumen allowed him to move easily through the clubby Jewish philanthropic circles of New York and Palm Beach, Fla. Madoff served on prominent boards, such as that of Yeshiva University; fellow board members, and even other money managers, sought after him to invest their money.

Splash News.
Now, Madoff’s collapse has gone off like an atomic blast in the midst of that world, leaving behind the wreckage of shattered lives and fortunes, and creating a gaping hole where there were once billions of dollars — and, more importantly, implicit trust.

“He has savaged Jewish civil society for a decade,” said one philanthropic recipient, who spoke of receiving “30, 40 calls from longtime donor friends who told me about the money they lost.” The recipient spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his donors and his institution's $1.3 billion endowment. The women’s Zionist organization Hadassah lost $90 million.

“This scandal has wiped out a generation of Jewish wealth,” said Brad Friedman, a lawyer representing a number of the victims of the alleged Madoff scam. “Let’s not kid ourselves, this is the most philanthropic community in America.”

Besides the injustice and moral reprehensibility of Madoff’s actions, there is the grief, which no doubt for many will be followed by self-questioning (“how did I get myself into this; how did I let this happen, what had I failed to notice?”). And there is the rage and the outrage. Someone told me the story of an older couple who had all of their money with him. Yes they were wealthy; yes, they were financially privileged. The elderly husband has Alzheimers. But, she would be able to look after him. And look after herself. Before this. Thank you Mr. Madoff.

Someone else told me about the growing list of well known New Yorkers who have been robbed. Carmen, the beautiful and ebullient and chic septugenarian fashion model who has worked since she was fourteen lost her life savings that she lived off. Carmen is no fool. Carmen is wise. Carmen trusts. Or doesn’t. Somehow Carmen – who is no fool – was fooled. She trusted. Harriett and Noel Levine lost a substantial amount, so did Ghighi and Adrienne Vittadini, as did so many others they know. Each day the list gets longer.

To re-quote the aforementioned Mark Seal, “He savaged Jewish civil society for a decade ...” That may be putting it mildly. You might say he savaged all civil society for a decade.

So what is Bernie Madoff thinking now? Watching TV in his Upper East Side penthouse apartment, high above the town, and the fray. What is he thinking now? His wife is still going to the Equinox where she was and remains one of their better (spending) customers. There’s still staff looking after his needs.

Someone at table today said that the Mrs. was a big shopper and bought a lot of clothes from one particular source only last week. True or not, that’s the picture. Meanwhile the private jet sits idle. The yacht in the Mediterranean sits idle.

Then there are the children and the children’s partners, and the children’s children. The sons. The sons of the father. They are part of this civil society too. Now the sons are not above suspicion. And even the niece. The European papers are all after images of the niece who fairly recently married a man who worked for the SEC. Hmmm ... Who else knew? What did they know? He couldn’t have been in it alone ... What do you think she’s thinking? Who are these people? What was their business? Working with that man. These are all young adults just beginning in life. Now not above suspicion.
Bernard Madoff's partner and brother, Peter Madoff, and his wife, Marion, purchased their 7,000-sq.-ft. Palm Beach house in May 2001 for $3.752 million. Located at 200 Algoma Rd. in the town's South End, the Madoffs quit-claimed the house in November 2006 to Mrs. Madoff with deeds giving her address as the Bernard Madoff office in New York, according to court records. The following year, she filed the house as her principal residence and claimed homestead exemption. Along with a one-way mirror glassed front entrance door, the Madoff's house features a pool, cabana and topiary ficus.
Then there’s the house in Palm Beach of the brother who was an associate. Two years ago, the brother’s wife assumed ownership and applied for the Homestead Exemption. In the State of Florida, the one thing no one can take away or leave to someone else is the spouse’s house. This transferring ownership is a common real estate maneuver and why a lot of people take Florida residency. However, now we’re not talking about “a lot of people.” We’re now talking about Bernie Madoff. Of the sanguine expression on his public face.

What must he be thinking? He must dying inside. Somewhere, sociopath or no, he must be dying a thousand deaths. Or ten thousand. And it still will never be okay.
Enter your email address below to subscribe to NYSD's newsletter. It's free!
Email address: