Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Madoff Affair: A Personal Tragedy

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the February 10, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website. Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director of the Morrill Memorial Library. From the Library: The Bernie Madoff Tragedy by Charlotte Canelli
           There are times when personal tragedies catch us in a net of disbelief, rage or compassion.  Tragedy, like reality, is sometimes not dissimilar to passing a car wreck on the side of the road and willing oneself not to look. Yet, something hard to watch is also something hard to turn away from.

            Perhaps watching the ‘car wrecks' from the sidelines is even more compelling today in the era of television.  We began broadcasting game shows like The Dating Game in the 70s and MTV’s Real World in the 90s.  Today we have The Bachelor.  Jersey Shore.  The Kardashians.

 They can be hard to watch but often too hard to turn away from. Ratings for reality shows have gone through the roof around the world.

            Personal tragedies often fascinate and puzzle us. Compelling personal accounts of loss or downfall often appeal to our compassion, our curiosity and our ire. The story of the Bernie Madoff family is one of them.

            It wasn’t long after Madoff’s confession amazed, enraged, confounded and shocked the world that books were published about the ruin and misfortune of a his family. “The Story of Bernard L. Madoff, The Man Who Swindled the World” by Deborah and Gerald Strober was rushed to print in early 2009, just months after Madoff’s own sons called authorities on December 10, 2008. 

            Immediately after the Ponzi scheme was revealed, Alexandra Penney began blogging her personal experience as “The Bag Lady Papers” in December 2008.  Penney, a graduate of Smith College, a published author and an editor of Self Magazine, Penney made quite a bit of money in the 80s and 90s and a family friend recommended that she invest it with Bernie Madoff. We all know the end of that story.  Overnight, Penney was broke.  Her blog became the book “Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All” (February 2010) and is part rant, part confession, part therapy. It is also a story of tragedy and triumph as Ms. Penney navigated through the experience of losing everything, expressing her sometimes childish anger at Madoff and the Wall Street rules that allowed it all to happen.  

            Adding to the farce, of course, was the story of “family-man” Bernie’s 16-year affair with Sheryl Weinstein.  “Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie and Me” (July 2009), is Weinstein’s account, published in the summer of 2009, only seven months after Madoff’s Ponzi scheme came crashing down. At first, many in the family chalked the book up to the fantasy and get-rich book scheme of Weinstein.  Today many believe the details of the sordid affair, a pitfall of egos and wallets large enough to get people into trouble.

            A senior writer at the New York Times, Diana B. Henriques covered the Madoff affair as it broke in December 2008 through the attempts to recover some of the lost billions for the innocent families who had invested their life savings with Bernie.  “Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust” was published in April of 2011 and describes the scandal from inside the financial world to inside the personal disasters of fractured families. 

            Of course, there were people who never believed Bernie Madoff’s luck with money early on.  Erin Arvedlund and Harry Markopolos were two of them.  Essays, exposes and insistence on investigation fell on deaf ears for over a decade and those frustrating versions are recounted in “Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff “(June 2009) by Erin Arvedlund and “No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller “(December 2009) by Harry Markopolos.

Many people in the world were caught up in disbelief when Bernie Madoff was proved to be a swindler, a hoax and a fraud.  Certainly, he caught his family by surprise.  Central to the tragedy of the Madoff family, was the crushing disappointment of the Madoff sons, Andrew and Mark.

             Published nearly simultaneously, “Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family” (2011) by Laurie Sandell and “The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life” (2011) by Stephanie Madoff Mack tell a nearly identical story but from two different viewpoints. 

The Madoff had two sons, Mark and Andrew. Both sons graduated from college to jobs in the Madoff firm and a career in a somewhat separate, somewhat connected firm that operated several floors above the Bernie Madoff Ponzi operation   “Truth and Consequences” explains the story from the younger brother, Andrew Madoff’s, point of view.  Author Sandell chronicles the personal versions of Andrew and his girlfriend, Catherine and Bernie Madoff’s wife, Ruth.  Their story sometimes conflicts with that of Stephanie Mack just as impressions of Bernie Madoff conflicted with the real man behind the mask.

            Stephanie Madoff Mack was married to Mark, the eldest son of Bernie and Ruth Madoff. On the second anniversary of Bernie Madoff’s arrest, Mark tragically took his own life leaving his wife and four children from two marriages. The accusations and pressure of living with his father’s crimes weighed so heavily that Mark Madoff could no longer bear it.  Believing that he and his younger brother did the right thing in turning in their father, Mark could not believe it when they were accused for an opulent lifestyle supported by Madoff money from the day they were born.  . 

            Stephanie Madoff’s story, “The End of Normal” is a heartfelt chronicle is Mark’s story.  Like Alexandra Penney’s “Bag Lady Papers” the details of a lifestyle replete with expansive apartments in Manhattan, beach-front vacation homes around the world and unlimited credit accounts can be a bit nauseating. Most of the have-nots, or middle class, know a world very different than Penney’s and Mack’s.

Victims of Bernard Madoff’s financial crimes and schemes involved all of his close friends and all members of his family.  They are stories of the realities of personal tragedy.