There’s a party this weekend at Bernie Madoff’s Park Avenue penthouse, and you’re invited. If you have any aspirations of acquiring wealth or social status, you’ll come because all the high-rollers will be there putting on the dog and peddling at least the appearance of affluence and influence.
All except Bernie, that is. It looks like he might be tied up for awhile – say 150 years or so. Of course, if he comes up with $170 billion dollars in restitution, the judge might go a little easier on him. But it looks like Bernie may get at least 25 years without parole, a sentence that means he’ll spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison.
But forget Bernie – he was never much of a party animal anyway.
Oh, and it doesn’t look like Ruth Madoff will be at the party either. Word on the street is she withdrew $15.5 million from a Wachovia brokerage account just weeks before Bernie was arrested and fled to the couple’s villa in France. She reportedly told her broker J.G. Wentworth “It’s my money, and I need it now!”
Ruth claims she had no idea her husband had been running a Ponzi scheme and defrauding family, friends, investors and pension funds for at least 15 years. And since she was flagrantly oblivious and willfully ignorant of that scam, she claims she is entitled to keep $72 million dollars or so Bernie set aside for her. Former friends who are now disenchanted investors disagree and suggest instead that Ruth should share Bernie’s sentence and cell. One wag suggested that the odds are one of them would not live long under that housing arrangement.
It’s doubtful this party will be as wild as some in the past, since some of the loonier former financial wizards won’t be able to attend due to prior commitments.
That other Bernie, Bernie Ebbers, former head of WorldCom, is still serving a 25-year sentence for financial shenanigans. Also absent will be WorldCom execs Jeff Skilling and Chalana McFarland.
Nor will Denny Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco, be at Bernie’s – he’s still in jail, too. Too bad, Denny really knows how to party! Video of the $2 million dollar, wildly ostentatious 40th birthday bash he threw his wife Karen was shown at his trial, and afterward, Denny was heard to say “It was a good party with a lot of good people.” Rumor has it what he misses most in prison is not his wife, who filed for divorce after he was sent to prison, but his $6,000 shower curtain.
• • •
The Good Book tells us “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” These days it’s beginning to look like a lot of rich men are going to have about the same odds of avoiding prison.
• • •
Rumor has it that several once-prominent persons were not even invited to this soiree. The persona no grata list included such big names as Bear-Stearns CEO and bridge-whiz Jimmy Cayne and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, who was roundly criticized for spending $1.2 million dollars to redecorate his office while his firm went under. Rumor has it Thain is attending night school to become an interior decorator.
Also conspicuous by his absence will be former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, a lifelong acolyte of a particularly virulent strain of Free-Market Religion which made the crimes of Bernie Madoff and others possible, the strain propounded by High Priestess Ayn Rand that scorns any and all restraint on jungle-ethic capitalism. Greenspan was forced to publicly renounce his faith and admit his religion was every bit as oppressive and godless as that of Lenin – or words to that effect anyway. Since being defrocked, he is seldom seen in public.
Absent for other reasons will be Ken Lay, CEO of Enron, who won’t be attending any more parties anywhere. Nor will Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet, whose investment firm Access International Advisors lost $1.5 billion dollars in Madoff’s scam, including his personal fortune of $50 million dollars. He reportedly committed suicide in his New York office. Also not attending, William Foxton, retired British army major, who apparently killed himself after losing his life savings in the Madoff scam.
• • •
Tragedies like that of William Foxton put the lie to the claims of Free-Market apologists that financial crimes are “only about money”. Financial speculation is not, and never has been, just a high-stakes poker game played between willing and wise participants. When these high-rollers place their bets, it isn’t just their money that’s at stake; it’s other people’s lives and futures, too.
If that wasn’t plain before, it is now that people are being thrown from their homes, now that young people’s futures are being crushed for want of college funds, and now that older people’s pensions and retirement are in doubt. It’s high time we disabused ourselves of the notion that society can afford to “let the boys have their little card game” – especially now that we’re being asked to ante up, too.
High Priests of Free-Market Religion are being dragged from their ivory towers and hauled before the Inquisition. Those that aren’t hauled off to prison in chains must endure the rack … humiliated by hypocritical congressmen, pilloried by the press and vilified by the vox populi. Good; it’s high time they had to answer for their blind advocacy of a self-serving faith.
But let no one be deceived; we have all had a hand in this, too. We have condoned and encouraged and applauded great wealth and wretched excess; we have held up the rich and successful as role models, as examples of the superiority of our way of life. Let us hope it is not too late to change our minds about that.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye offered a bit of folk wisdom: “There’s no shame in being poor, but there’s no great honor either.” It’s high time we made it clear the same applies to being rich.
©2009 Tom Cordle
It looks like Bernie may be able to attend his party this weekend after all. It now appears his "remorseful" guilty plea was a ploy to keep him out of jail. The legal machinations are a little hard to follow, but had he plea bargained as expected, he could have been sentenced immediately. By pleading guilty, he expected to stay out of jail on bail while awaiting sentencing.
But the judge declared him a flight risk and revoked his bail, sending him to jail immediately. Now his lawyers are appealing the revocation in hopes of returning the poor man to this penthouse prison. If they succeed in that, Bernie will remain free on bail while they appeal whatever sentence is handed down. It appear's Bernie's planning to take a final page out of the Ken Lay playbook.
Ah, the law. As Victor Hugo said, "The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." All this begs the question, where is Bernie stealing the bread to pay these very expensive lawyers?