Bernie Madoff, the financier who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme, has died. He was 82.
His death was confirmed by the New York law firm of Brandon Sample, Madoff’s attorney. Madoff’s home since July 2009 was the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina, where he was serving a 150-year term. He requested compassionate early release, citing end-stage kidney disease, in February 2020.
Like Charles Ponzi, whose 1920 con earned him a place in the annals of crime, Madoff seemed to deliver stunning returns to his clients, when in fact he was paying existing investors with money from new ones.
Unlike Ponzi, who soared and fell in the course of one year, Madoff achieved a level of respect and acclaim among finance professionals — he was chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market in 1990, 1991 and 1993 – and kept his ruse going for at least 15 years, even under the gaze of regulators who visited his office to inspect his records.
His thousands of clients entrusted him with more than $19 billion in principal and were led to believe, through fake statements and trade confirmations, that they had almost $65 billion among them in their accounts. Irving Picard, the trustee appointed to unwind the accounts, had recovered more than $14.4 billion to partially reimburse clients who lost money.
Madoff’s big-name investors included Fred Wilpon, then-majority owner of the New York Mets; husband-and-wife actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick; Henry Kaufman, former chief economist at Salomon Brothers; the late Boston philanthropist Carl Shapiro; two of Europe’s wealthiest women, Alicia Koplowitz of Spain and Lilliane Bettencourt of France; charitable foundations of director Steven Spielberg and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel; and New York and Yeshiva universities.
The fraud collapsed in December 2008, when plunging equity markets prompted clients to seek more withdrawals than he could accommodate. His sons Andrew and Mark notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation that their father had confessed to them.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to fraud, money laundering, perjury and theft. In court, and in later interviews from prison, he insisted that he had run a genuine investment business for many years before finding himself unable to maintain the generous returns his clients had come to expect.