Trying to Blow The Whistle on Madoff
Long before the name Bernard Madoff became synonomous with the biggest Ponzi scheme in American history, two people -- a reporter and an accountant -- had caught some red flags in Madoff's numbers.
New York accountant Harry Markopolos spent the better of a decade combing through Madoff's books in an unsuccessful attempt to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to examine the hedge fund's finances.
The bookish and media-shy Markopolos started looking at Madoff in 2000 after his boss at an investment firm asked the accountant to figure out how Madoff made his money. Markopolos couldn't and, even after he left the company, continued to feed info to a contact at the SEC, including a 2005 memo entitled, "The World's Largest Hedge Fund Is a Fraud."
"Why would people think I feel good about this?" Markopolos told the Boston Globe. "People think I'm a hero, but I didn't stop him. He stopped himself."
But Markopolos wasn't the only one wondering aloud about Madoff's secretive investing.
In 2001, Barron's Erin E. Arvedlund wrote a somewhat skeptical look at Madoff's operation, calling on financial advisers who questioned how Madoff could routinely produce double-digit returns year after year with no down spells.
"When Barron's asked Madoff how he accomplishes this, he says, 'It's a proprietary strategy. I can't go into it in great detail.' Nor were the firms that market Madoff's funds forthcoming."
One of the most interesting and prescient aspects of Arvedlund's examination into Madoff was her interview with an unnamed investment manager who advised his clients to pull their money out of Madoff's hedge fund after he "couldn't explain how they were up or down in a particular month."
In an article for Conde Nast Portfolio, Arvedlund said she interviewed some 100 people about Madoff. Very few had ever met the man and he remained steeped in mystery, although the rumors about how he made his money abounded.
"Over the ensuing years, fund-of-funds managers I spoke to repeated the rumors about Madoff," she wrote. "He remained a hot commodity in the hedge fund world, but no one had successfully been able to disprove his claims." (Arvedlund's NPR interview)
By Derek Kravitz |
January 13, 2009; 1:56 PM ET
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