Bernie Madoff insists he’s no sociopath.
“I am a good person,” he tells New York Mag in one of the first major interviews he has given since his imprisonment.
He genuinely believes it, despite the fact he destroyed not only the lives of several hundred investors, which included close friends, but betrayed and ruined the lives of his family — his own children and wife.
Madoff explains to NY Mag’s Steve Fishman that even though he did those things, that he’s misunderstood: “I’m not the kind of person I’m being portrayed as.”
He sees a therapist weekly in jail. He tells Fishman that the therapist thinks he’s not a bad person:
[S]itting alone with his therapist, in the prison khakis he irons himself, he seeks reassurance.
“Everybody on the outside kept claiming I was a sociopath,” Madoff told her one day. “I asked her, ‘Am I a sociopath?’ ” He waited expectantly, his eyelids squeezing open and shut, that famous tic. “She said, ‘You’re absolutely not a sociopath. You have morals. You have remorse.’ ”
He also says that Butner, where he’s imprisoned is “as good a place as I could possibly be.”
This isn’t surprising. One of things that the article highlights is the enormous chip on Madoff’s shoulder — one that he carried with him as a nobody from Queens to his high-flying days on Wall Street. It’s about the respect he wanted on the outside, which led him to engineer one of the greatest frauds in history, and which incidentally gets him the respect he so desperately craved on the inside, with fellow inmates.
“My notoriety impresses them. It shouldn’t, but it does,” he explains.
Madoff hated that he wasn’t automatically part of the Wall Street club when he started, and bizarrely resented the industry he had chosen to pursue.
I was upset with the whole idea of not being in the club. I was this little Jewish guy from Brooklyn. It was always a business where you had to have an edge, and the little guy never got a break.
Madoff’s massive ego and this “I’m so hard-done-by” attitude, would ultimately be his downfall. He talks about how, once the heads of banks became his clients, his ego was boosted, big time. He simply couldn’t help himself, and when those Wall Street titans came to him for his expertise, the narcissism just multiplied:
All of a sudden, these banks which wouldn’t give you the time of day, they’re willing to give you a billion dollars. It wasn’t like I needed the money. It was just that I thought it was a temporary thing, and all of a sudden, everybody is throwing billions of dollars at you. Saying, ‘Listen, if you can do this stuff for us, we’ll be your clients forever.’ ”
The chairman of Banco Santander came down to see me, the chairman of Credit Suisse came down, chairman of UBS came down; I had all of these major banks. You know, Safra coming down and entertaining me and trying [to invest with Madoff]. It is a head trip. [Those people] sitting there, telling you, ‘You can do this.’