Wednesday, February 03, 2016

"Madoff": ABC miniseries about the fall of the world's biggest Ponzi scheme (except maybe Social Security)

Madoff” is an ABC mini-series, in two 120-mnute segments on successive nights, dramatizing the fall of the investment Ponzi scheme run for years by Bernie Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss),  directed by Raymond De Felitta.

The film emphasizes tension between Bernie and his sons, especially Mark (Tom Lipinski) employed in running the film.  The screenplay, through the first half, makes it credible that employees didn’t know what was going on, especially on a hidden floor of the Lipstick Building on the Upper East Side.  Neither did his wife (Blythe Danner) suspect much.  Harry Markapolos (Frank Whaley) appears, having predicted that Madoff’s operation couldn’t be legitimate based on mathematical models.

But the film gives little attention to explaining how Madoff fooled himself into believing he could pretend this was legitimate.  It does show some scenes of him as a young man working with old technology and pencil and paper creating fake intermediate accounting ledgers.  It also shows his ability to manipulate customers, particularly face-to-face, with doubletalk.  He would “overcome objections” before they could be raised.

Some of his (Jewish) clients were famous, like Holocaust survivor author Elie Wiesel (David Marguiles), author of “Night”, for which high school students read abridged versions.

At the end of the first half, Madoff has a meeting with the SEC, and has to come up with an authorization code which he doesn’t have. The next day, at the office, he waits to be arrested. He finally knows he will not have a happy ending, and won't be "free" much longer.

“You want to know how to get people to trust you with their money?  You present it as an exclusive thing.”

The conclusion shows how his two sons turned him in, his sudden arrest, and his guilty plea a few months later, with immediate imprisonment.

The film has Madoff often narrating himself as in a mockumentary.

ABC’s main link is here.

ABC followed with a one-hour supplement by Brian Ross, "Madoff: After the Fall".  The suicide of Mark is covered (he had tried to change his last name), as is the death of the other son to leukemia. The lawyers say that jail could have been delayed a year by a trial, but that would have been harder on everyone.

Markapolos says that the SEC listens to him now, and that he has 61 open investigations of other possible Ponzi schemes.  Retirees should talk to trusted financial planners (hopefully affiliated with major institutions) about the possibility of any suspicious items in their portfolios.

Madoff has a humble prison job, serving others. 

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