Bernie Madoff's personal PR campaign has begun.
The convicted Ponzi schemer made a series of calls from prison to writer Steve Fishman in hopes of setting the record straight -- and to potentially "get a message" across to his estranged son, Andy Madoff, according to a new article in New York magazine.
He apologizes for calling collect. "I don't have that much money in my commissary account," he said.
Madoff is serving a prison sentence of 150 years for running the largest recorded Ponzi scheme in history, one that had a direct effect on thousands of investors and a host of charities and hedge funds. The collective investment of $36 billion in Madoff's scheme returned only $18 billion to investors before the financial collapse. And while there is still debate about where the other $18 billion exactly landed, much of it believed to have gone to Madoff.
Madoff appears to have spent the better part of the interviews defending his actions, stopping short of excusing himself entirely. "I am a good person," Madoff says. "I'm not the kind of person I'm portrayed as."
He insists others are less innocent than they appear. "Everyone was greedy," he asserts, "I just went along."
Not everyone left empty-handed either, according to Madoff. "I'm sure it's a traumatic experience to some," he says, "but I made a lot of money for people."
Madoff also had some choice words about Wall Street, for the second time this month. Earlier this February, in his only other interview, Madoff said banks and hedge funds "had to know... But the attitude was sort of, 'If you're doing something wrong, we don't want to know."
This time, he went farther, admitting the market exploits individual investors. "There's no chance that investors have in this market," he says. During the interview, he also expresses surprise that no one else on Wall Street has seen criminal convictions. Regulatory reform, he believes, didn't go far enough.
Madoff's criticism of the financial industry comes only months after JPMorgan Chase, Madoff's bank, came under scrutiny for its alleged role in the Ponzi scheme. Trustee Irving Picard is suing the bank for $6.4 billion on behalf of scammed investors. His lawyer, David Sheehan, says the bank was "willfully blind" to the scheme and played a direct role in abetting Madoff's scheme by ignoring "red flags," while collecting fees and profits.
Picard has also sued Citigroup for $425 million, alleging the bank knowingly passed Madoff's dirty money onto other banks.
Madoff's stated reason for calling Fishman, though, had more to do with his estranged son, Adam, than with Wall Street. Madoff hasn't spoken to Adam since his other son, Mark, committed suicide in downtown Manhattan on the second anniversary of the Madoff's arrest. Through the interview, he hopes to reach his son, against his lawyer's advice. Since Mark's suicide, Madoff has also lost contact with his wife, Ruth Madoff.
Read the entire piece here.