"Where should I send my money?"
"I've heard great things about you!"
"My friend says you are a magician with money."
"May I speak with Bernard?"
I used to get several of these calls a month; polite, inquiring, generously offering me their money. Not any more. Headlines make a huge difference in how you are treated. Now the calls are rude, accusatory and angry. That's because my name is Madoff.
My name is associated with the largest financial fraud in history. $50 billion dollars - gone. Other financial wizards and wise-guys are amateurs compared to the magician that made this money disappear. The sheer magnitude of the smoke that finally puffed and revealed nothing has shaken already convulsing financial markets, not to mention investor confidence. My name has gone from being trusted and honored to one that is reviled.
Some years ago, when I was visiting my pregnant wife in the hospital, the world got even smaller. I stopped at the nursery, as I always did, to look at all the new babies. To my surprise, there was a sign, "Madoff Baby".
The nurse came up to me, "Are you Mr. Madoff?"
"But my wife is expecting twins. This can't be my baby."
"You're not Bernard Madoff's son?"
"No, I'm not that Madoff."
Inspired by the coincidence and filled with good will, I thought I would call Bernard to congratulate him on his new grandson and have a laugh about our names being the same and the number of calls I receive looking for him. I assume he was neither amused by the coincidence nor filled with good will. He didn't pick up the phone. His secretary pronounced the name, "Made-off", like "He made off with a lot of money." My name is pronounced "Mad-off", simple, like it's spelled.
"I'm not that Madoff." I've said many times over the past several years when people would call my office in error, asking for Bernard. Since the scandal of Bernard Madoff hit the news, I have gotten many calls and emails from around the globe, not just at work, at home too, all days of the week, all hours of the day.
I spoke to some of the callers:
"Is this Bernard Madoff?"
"No, I'm not Bernard."
"You're B. Madoff- what's the B stand for?"
"Is this Bernie?"
"Are you related to Bernard?"
"Have you met him?"
"No, I've never met him."
"Do you know what's happening with the money?"
"I don't know about the money."
"Will anything be recovered?"
"I have no idea."
"I lost a lot of money."
"I'm sorry for your loss."
I feel for these people whose lives have been so harmed by this scheme, but my guess is Bernard doesn't have a listed phone number, wouldn't answer his own phone and would not be living in the same neighborhood I am.
Not just random callers, people I've known for years ask me if I am related to him. If you go way, way back, I might be. Maybe our ancestors were chased from the same shtetl, but I don't know that. All I know is Bernard L. — I'm Ben J. — has really screwed up the association for the name "Madoff". If you Google my company, an ad for "Victim of Madoff Ponzi Scheme?" comes up - not a great opener for potential business.
The calls got nastier:
"Where is my money?"
"You ruined my life."
"You think you can hide?"
"I want my money back you fucking thief."
"Are you Bernard you scum?"
Ironically, like my call to him years ago, I now had no interest in speaking to anyone who was looking for a Madoff.
A few weeks ago a package arrived at my office addressed to "Bernard Madoff". There was no return address. The label looked like a kidnap note. I assumed whatever was in there, it wasn't going to be good. Concern for my safety and the safety of my employees had me return it to the post office. Even though it was the holidays, I doubt if it was a nice gift.
Benard L. was quite philanthropic, giving many generous charitable gifts over the years. The Lenny Bruce maxim, "The only anonymous giver is the guy who knocks up your daughter", comes to mind. If you are out to bilk people, wrapping yourself in charitable and religious causes often creates a magical shield that protects you from criticism and scrutiny. If you couple that with an annual return of 10-12%, the glint of promised gold blinds common sense- until your true activities reveal both the hypocrisy and illegality. The magic is revealed as a con; the magician, a convict.
"Too good to be true" — a cautionary phrase that is true, but people need to believe in the magic. Adults know there's no Santa Claus, yet the fantasy is maintained for the kids. People like Bernard Madoff maintain the fantasy for adults, until reality crashes in.