Bernie Madoff, the once-renowned investor and financier, died on April 14th, 2021 while serving a 150-year prison sentence for securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and other felonies. A pioneer in electronic trading and even the chairman of Nasdaq in the early 1990s, Madoff defrauded investors out of tens of billions of dollars over multiple decades in the largest Ponzi scheme ever conducted.
Madoff started his investing career in the 1960s by trading penny stocks collectively worth $5,000 at his company, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. In the late 1980s, he received widespread recognition for building electronic trading capabilities. These provided him with unprecedented insight into the market. They also allowed for much higher order flow, or the number of orders transacted by a brokerage. Madoff’s technological advances boosted his organization’s overall revenue and contributed to his reputation on Wall Street. By this point, he was making close to $100 million a year through legitimate means and became the chairman of Nasdaq in the early 1990s.
Along with this lucrative part of his business, Madoff claimed to be using split-strike conversion, a legitimate trading strategy, to generate profits for his investors. In reality, he was depositing his clients’ money into a bank account, which he used to pay off investors who wished to cash out. This fraudulent method of money management is known as a Ponzi Scheme. Due to multiple factors, such as Madoff’s aura of respectability, his modest and consistent returns, and his apparent preference for investing in safe stocks, Madoff’s scheme continued for decades. It lasted until the 2008 financial crisis, when a cascade of investors asked to cash out all at once. Unable to keep up, Madoff confessed to his sons who ended up turning their father in to law enforcement.
Madoff was arrested in December 2008. He insisted that he had acted alone in the scam throughout his arrest and trial. Despite these claims, many of his colleagues were also sent to prison. Additionally, it was revealed that the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) had been investigating Madoff since 1999 and that Harry Markopolos, a financial analyst, had filed a complaint against Madoff in 2000 alleging that “Madoff Securities is the world’s largest Ponzi Scheme.” Following the revelation of the scale of Madoff’s fraud and the SEC’s unwillingness to act on it initially, the agency faced severe criticism from critics who claimed that most of the damage could have been prevented if Madoff had been caught earlier.
Thousands of investors who had trusted Madoff lost their life savings and several even committed suicide as a result. Madoff was forced to forfeit $170 billion and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Irving Picard, a New York lawyer in charge of liquifying Madoff’s firm, has sued those who profited off the scheme. So far, he has recovered $13.3 billion for investors who were victims of the scam. Still, thousands who were indirectly affected by the scandal have not been able to recover their losses. The process of fully repaying the victims will not be completed until many years after Madoff’s recent death.