Bernie Madoff became one of America’s most prolific fraudsters having cost investors billions of dollars through a massive Ponzi scheme which he ran for years and possibly decades. Despite the scale of his fraudulent activity, Madoff managed to operate under the radar of federal authorities for years, enabling him to continue to rip off his investors.
Madoff’s fraud came to an abrupt end in 2008 when investigators finally caught up with the billionaire. He faced a dramatic fall from grace - the former chairman of the Nasdaq now faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a federal prison.
A new four-part Netflix documentary series, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street, reveals the truth behind Madoff and the largest Ponzi scheme in history. This is everything you need to know about Bernie Madoff:
Who was Bernie Madoff?
Bernard Madoff was an American financier turned fraudster who was responsible for the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Madoff was born in New York in 1938 and began a career in stocks in 1960 when he founded a penny stock brokerage.
The brokerage continued to grow and was renamed Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities - it became one of the largest firms of its kind in the US. Madoff hired his brother, daughter and sons to work at the firm, and he served as its chairman until his arrest.
Madoff had been suspected of fraud for years, as many financial analysts believed that his numbers did not add up, and major Wall Street firms refused to work with his business. In 2008, Madoff did not have anywhere near enough funds to pay his investors and he told his family that his business was finished.
Madoff had run a Ponzi scheme that caused his investors to lose an estimated $20 billion in cash and three times as much in paper losses (unrealised profit on their investment).
What is a Ponzi scheme?
Ponzi schemes are an unsustainable business model because the money will eventually run out when the business fails to attract new investors or when current investors attempt to withdraw too much money at the same time. Generally, investors in Ponzi schemes end up losing their entire investment.
Madoff said that he began the scheme in the 1990s but it may have been started as early as the 1970s - he attracted thousands of investors through his career and investigators estimated the total loss to be around $18 billion. Roughly $14 billion of this has since been returned to investors.
Madoff’s sons reported their father to the authorities and he was arrested and charged with securities fraud on 11 December 2008. He was initially bailed but his bail was revoked when it was determined that he was a flight risk due to the likelihood of him receiving a long jail sentence.
What happened to Bernie Madoff?
Madoff’s sons told the authorities that their father had confessed to setting up a massive Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme is a business wherein initial investors are paid in profits made by gaining new investors.
Madoff was charged with one count of securities fraud - at his trial he pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies and confessed that he had turned his business into a Ponzi scheme. In June 2009 he was sentenced to 150 years in prison - the maximum sentence allowed for his crimes. He was also ordered to forfeit $17 billion. He served his sentence at the Federal Medical Center, a mixed security level prison for inmates with health issues, in Butner, North Carolina.
During his time in prison, Madoff reportedly earned Madoff $710 through completing nearly 3,000 hours of labour. Madoff died at the prison hospital from chronic kidney disease in April 2021, aged 82, having served 12 years of his sentence.
Is there a trailer for The Monster of Wall Street?
Yes there is, and you can watch it right here: