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Nine Maddening Moments of the Netflix Madoff Documentary

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avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Opinion

Bernard Madoff exits the Manhattan federal court house in New York in this January 14, 2009 file photo. Photo: Reuters / Brendan McDermid.

In what has been called the scam of the century, Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme resulted in a loss of $64.8 billion (including false gains he reported for clients) and $19 billion of actual money that was given to him. He guaranteed consistent returns regardless of what was taking place on Wall Street, and the new Netflix documentary, “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street” details his evil.

The film includes interviews with former employees, experts, and analysts — and video interviews of Madoff, his wife, and sons. It even features a brief clip of Elie Wiesel talking about his reaction to the scam. The powerful documentary answers some of the questions regarding how Madoff could get away with the fraud for so long — partly by having a legitimate business, but then having an illegitimate side business where he pretended to be making investments with people’s money when he was not actually doing so.

One interviewee says Madoff was trusted among other Jews because he was Jewish.

Madoff died behind bars at the age of 82.

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Here are nine of the most maddening moments from this powerful documentary.

1.Was the SEC Deaf or Blind?

From 2000 to 2008, finance expert and investigator Harry Markopoloss warned the Securities and Exchange Commission, known as the SEC, that Madoff’s posted returns were not mathematically possible, and he suggested it very well could be a Ponzi scheme. Markopolos even sent a detailed report showing about 30 red flags. He was ignored. He later lambasted SEC officials in front of Congress, saying they should have done their jobs and listened to him.

2. Not a Single Person Was Fired After the Revelation

In one instance, rather than investigating possible fraud, an SEC official who had been friends with Madoff, called him on the phone and asked about the scam. Madoff lied to her. She took him at his word. At another point, two junior investigators for the SEC questioned Madoff and he simply said they could call Washington and learn that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Their “clean bill of health” gave him more legitimacy, and more people invested in his “fund.” In one very odd moment, Madoff called SEC officials to meet with them and answer questions. They asked for the account number of a system, whereby it would show what trades he had made with people’s money. Had they looked, they would have seen he was lying. They never looked. Not a single person was fired from the SEC.

3. Bought Off for Nothing

Madoff was able to scam people, thanks to the help of computer programmers Jerome O’Hara and George Perez. The pair asked for diamonds to keep silent about what they knew. While they could have gone to the police or asked for millions of dollars in hush money, they wound up taking only $60,000 each to be quiet. They would both be sentenced to 2.5 years in jail.

4. Madoff Ripped Off Famous Jews, as Well as Investors Around the Globe

Among the famed clients who were ripped off were Steven Spielberg, former Mets owner Fred Wilpon, and the late Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who in archived footage says that he felt “spiritual nakedness” from the scheme that cost his life savings, and more than $15 million for the foundation he built with his wife Marion.

5. Documents Put in a Fridge

In one instance, when Madoff needed to create false documents that looked real and somewhat old or at least rifled through, the papers were thrown on the floor. Since they were newly printed and warm, they were also put in a refrigerator to cool them down.

6. Madoff’s Ashes Are Not with His Family

Jewish law forbids the cremating of a corpse, and Jews are supposed to have their remains, buried whole, below the ground. Madoff was cremated and his family refused to accept the ashes. A lawyer has them in an urn.

7. French Financier Who Failed to See, Takes His Own Life

Warned about possible fraud by Madoff, French financier and aristocrat Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet said that since he had about $1 billion of his clients’ investments with Madoff, that he was a dead man if it was a scam. A week after Madoff’s arrest, de La Villehuchet slit his arms over a garbage can so that a cleaning worker wouldn’t have to struggle to clean up his blood.

8. The Sons Turn in Their Father and Ask Their Mom to Choose; the Oldest Son Ends It All

Several former employees said they didn’t believe Madoff’s sons, Mark and Andrew, who worked for their father, knew about his Ponzi scheme. The sons turned in their father to the FBI after he told them the truth. They told their mother to cut off all communication with their father, and that she had to choose between them and their grandchildren, or her husband. On the two-year anniversary of his coming clean to his sons, oldest son Mark Madoff was found dead in an apparent suicide at the age of 46. He had four children. We see footage of Ruth Madoff wondering if it would have made a difference had she cut all communication with her husband. Ruth became close with Andrew, who would die of cancer in 2014.

9. The FBI Discovers the 17th Floor, Which Was Supposed to Be Secret

When Steven Garfinkel of the FBI found there was a 17th floor where much of the illegal activity had been carried out and was supposed to be kept secret, his reaction was short.

“Holy sh-t!” he recalls himself saying in the Netflix program.

The author is a writer in New York.

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