We know that Bernie Madoff takes some responsibility for what he did.
In terms of those closest to him — ie. his wife and children — he has taken sole responsibility, and he and his family maintain that Bernie alone committed the fraud and did it in secret.
But in the fraudster’s interview with Steve Fishman of New York Mag, Madoff does have some blame to throw around.
For one, he seems to hold his early investors partly responsible. He says that it was pretty obvious he was swindling them and he did make them some money and that they probably all would have lost money in the market anyhow.
He, on the other hand, is only getting recognised for all the bad stuff he did. He laments that nobody wants “to hear that I had a successful business and did all these wonderful things for the industry… And got all these awards… And so did my family… I did all of this during the legitimate years. No. You don’t read any of that.”
- His clients from the 80s: When the market crashed in ’87, some of Madoff’s clients were startled and, naturally, withdrew their cash. The redemptions forced Bernie “to unwind long-term hedges on unfavorable terms, which depleted his capital.” His reaction to their natural inclination to remove their money from a shaky market? “They betrayed me.”
- His friends, who he made rich: He thinks his buddies have lost perspective on all the good stuff he did for them: “Look, none of my clients, even if they lost every penny they put in there, can plead poverty… All of my friends, most of my individual clients, are not net losers. Now if you listen to [them], they’re living out of Dumpsters and they don’t have any money, and I’m sure it’s a traumatic experience to some, but I made a lot of money for people.”
- Ungrateful investors who made it OK for him to lie: “When you deal with people’s money, as I did for all my life, you realise how strange they are; it’s all like, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ If you made money for me, I was smart… and if you lose money, then it’s all your fault. So you become somewhat callous about people lying.”
- On stupid investors: He says the ton of people who begged him to take their money, didn’t seem to care about the “red flags” and “caveats” that he waved in their faces. He explains, “They were all told by me, ‘Don’t invest any more money than you could afford to lose. This is the stock market. There’s always stuff that can happen. Brokerage firms can fail. I could go crazy and do something stupid. If you want a [safe thing], put your money in government bonds. So everybody understood this.”
- On greedy investors: “Everyone was greedy. I just went along.”
- On the clients who played dumb: “Their friends had told them, ‘How can you be making 15 or 18 per cent when everyone is making less money? Believe me, if you don’t think they had doubts, they had doubts … I would say, certainly, by the mid-to-late nineties.”
- On his four largest early investors Carl Shapiro, Jeffry Picower, Stanley Chais and Norm Levy: Madoff’s four big investors have little reason to complain, as Madoff sees it: “All of those four people, even though my friends, you also have to understand, every one of them made tons of money with me, hundreds of millions. Picower, billions. Shapiro, well over a billion. Levy, billions. Real money.”
- And ultimately, every victim who will get their money back, anyway: “Most of his victims, he says, will get a substantial amount of their money back—he’s met with the trustee’s lawyers and tried to help lead them to the money. “It’s 50 cents on the dollar,” he told me. “These people probably would’ve lost all that money in the market.”
Certainly throughout the interview, he is remorseful and does take responsibility and admits guilt. But he does so not without justifying why, and who else contributed to the $65 billion ponzi scheme.