There may be more to Madoff tale
Diane Francis, Financial Post
You gotta love the Americans. Their Puritanical streak shows when it comes to locking up rich bad guys like Bernard Madoff who just landed a 150-year sentence for his gigantic swindle.
It may seem to be overkill for a guy like Madoff who's 71 years old, but U. S. District Judge Denny Chin disagreed.
"Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll," Chin said.
So Bernie, the man who made off with billions, will never get out of jail, which is as it should be.
What the Puritans south of the border understand is that white collar crimes are as violent and egregious as murder. In this case, as in others, individual victims commit suicide, lose their health, have their lives destroyed, become unable to support dependents, suffer family breakdown or are put under unjust strain. Victims that are charities or foundations are bankrupted or damaged.
But Madoff is more than just a sociopath. Too much of this story doesn't hang together to my mind, and he was too functional in other aspects of his existence.
That's why I think this may be more about money laundering and tax evasion than about fraud. Many people may not realize that he pleaded guilty to money laundering too.
If so, then some Madoff "victims" may be perpetrators.
Here's my thinking:
It is bothersome that investigators have been unable to find records of any trading for years. If there had been trading, and massive losses, then it would be arguable that he started off legit, then got into trouble and was forced to begin his Ponzi.
But the fictitious nature of this long-term scam may mean it was money laundering combined with a Ponzi.
Here's how money laundering would have worked: Unsavory people, from drug cartels to gangsters or greedy tax evaders, are forced to keep their ill-gotten gains hidden from police or tax authorities in dirty-money havens. In order to get their money out so they can spend it, they hire such people as Mr. Madoff to "clean" their cash.
On paper, they "invest" huge sums in capital in Madoff funds in return for 10% a year in dividends. But only the 10%, plus fees for Madoff, are transferred to Madoff so he can pay the crooks in a taxable jurisdiction.
In other words, the crooks pretend to give him millions to invest, he pretends to invest it, and he collects big fees for transferring to them 10% every year of their hidden capital.
Laundering money is not for the faint of heart. These people are often dangerous, which may explain why some of Madoff's biggest feeder-intermediaries are known to police and another one disappeared from Vienna immediately after the jig was up.
This speculation is not to say that there aren't thousands of legitimate victims and many worthwhile charities.
So here's my theory:
Word of Mr. Madoff's 10% returns spread like wildfire, and everyone wanted to be an investor. A few years back, an acquaintance of mine in New York City, plus others she knows, approached him but were refused by Madoff himself.
"Trust me, you don't want to be part of this," he reportedly said.
Unfortunately, this is now an open-and-shut case. The truth will never come out, because my bet is that Mr. Madoff will take it to the grave. Or has been told, by some investors, he has to.