Bernard Madoff, founder and president of a New York firm that invested funds for wealthy individuals, hedge funds and other institutions, was charged with operating what he told employees was a long-running $50 billion Ponzi scheme in what may be one of the largest frauds in history.
“It’s all just one big lie,” Madoff told his employees on Dec. 10, according to the government. The firm, Madoff allegedly said to them, is “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme.”
Madoff faces as much as 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted. His New York-based firm was the 23rd largest market maker on Nasdaq in October, handling a daily average of about 50 million shares a day, exchange data show. It specialized in handling orders from online brokers in some of the largest U.S. companies, including General Electric Co. and Citigroup Inc.
‘One of The Pioneers’
“He’s one of the pioneers of modern Wall Street,” said James Angel, an associate business professor at Georgetown University in Washington. Madoff’s firm was among the first to automate market-making, in which a dealer continually buys and sells stock. The company was among the largest to offer “payment for order flow,” or paying to handle customer orders.
“The exchanges didn’t like the practice and questioned whether customers got the best price,” Angel said.
Madoff was also sued today by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry,” said defense lawyer Dan Horwitz. “We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events. He’s a person of integrity.”
Fix Asset Management in New York, which had at least $400 million with Madoff, said it was checking with its lawyers regarding its holdings.
“We are very shocked,” John Fix, the son of founder Charles Fix, said by telephone from Greece. “We put in redemptions in the past few months and got our money back no problem. We are just so surprised about all this.”
Madoff ran his investment advisory business from a separate floor of his firm’s office, keeping financial statements “under lock and key,” prosecutors said. Early in December, he told one employee that clients wanted to redeem about $7 billion and that he was struggling to free up the funds, the government said. After he told another staff member Dec. 9 that he wanted to pay annual bonuses before the year’s end, two months early, a pair of senior employees asked to speak with him, prosecutors said.
They had noticed he had been suffering from a “great deal of stress” and wanted to know what was happening, the U.S. said. When one of them challenged his explanations, Madoff invited them to his Manhattan apartment, saying he “wasn’t sure he would be able to hold it together” if they continued talking at the office, the government said.
While meeting the pair at his home yesterday, Madoff conceded that he was “finished,” that his advisory business is “all just one big lie” and “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme,” the government said. The business had been insolvent for years with losses of about $50 billion, he told the employees, according to the criminal and SEC complaints.
Madoff said he had about $200 million to $300 million left and planned to distribute money to select employees, family and friends before surrendering to authorities in about a week, the government said.
Confessed to FBI
Madoff allegedly confessed to FBI agent Theodore Cacioppi on Dec. 11, saying there was “no innocent explanation,” the SEC said in its complaint. Madoff said it was his fault and he had “paid investors with money that wasn’t there.” He also said he was “insolvent” and he expected to go to jail, it said.
The Madoff firm had about $17.1 billion in assets under management as of Nov. 17, according to NASD records. At least 50 percent of its clients were hedge funds, and others included banks and wealthy individuals, according to the records.