You’ve seen the headlines, read the countless news stories, or even watched the HBO original movie, “The Wizard of Lies,” starring Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer.
But now, millions can get their closest look yet at the inner workings of the great manipulator Bernard L. Madoff and the largest Ponzi scheme in history. First-time author Jim Campbell released his book Madoff Talks (McGraw-Hill) in late April, 2021, two weeks after Madoff died behind bars in the 12th year of his 150-year prison sentence.
The blockbuster book exposes the darkest secrets of Madoff’s scheme, heartbreaking stories of the victims, and the systemic failures of regulators. By obtaining firsthand interviews with Madoff, his wife Ruth, and key executives and regulators, Campbell puts the readers inside the offices of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities during the final hours when the Ponzi scheme fell apart, and the SEC and the FBI were at the door. Campbell also gives readers a detailed look into how the administrative staff took stomach-churning phone calls from frantic customers.
The book answers burning questions, such as did Madoff have empathy for his victims? Did he have a change of heart before his death of kidney disease at age 82? How did his wife Ruth react? What motivated—and silenced—the six key co-conspirators who helped Madoff steal billions of dollars? Campbell’s book is a welcome addition to several others detailing the Madoff Ponzi scheme—but this one may be the most impactful and insightful of all.
Netflix Docufilm in the Works
This may be why Netflix has just signed with Campbell to release a Madoff Talks-based documentary, set for release in December 2022.
Canadian author Christina Strigas once said, “In the end, you keep going back to the beginning.” This is precisely what Jim Campbell does in his first chapter. In the opening chapter of the book, titled “The Fall of Madoff”, Campbell examines Madoff’s final days pulling wool over the eyes of his children Andrew and Mark, his firm’s employees, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and FINRA regulators, and most importantly, his victims.
Leading in with the details of how Madoff acted erratically in the days leading up to the revelation, Campbell shares why Madoff could no longer hide the scheme, and goes into detail about the earth-shattering days of December 10th and 11th, 2008. These two days were the ones when Madoff’s scheme broke like an earthquake, producing ripple effects far beyond Manhattan.
Bernie Madoff would arguably become the face of Wall Street greed that sadly characterized the 2008 near collapse of the U.S. banking system and the subsequent Great Recession. Campbell also details the heroes of the story, from the three co-workers at Rampart Investments and whistleblowers Frank Casey, Harry Markopoulos, and Neil Chelo, to Madoff’s secretary, Eleanor Squillari, and forensic consultant Bruce Dubinsky. Importantly, Campbell’s book reveals how courageous whistleblowers, like Markopoulous, dug deep to expose the truth. Campbell tells the stories of the whistleblowers at length, detailing “what had taken Frank Casey about 4 minutes to sniff out would take the financial regulators 40 years to miss. Those additional years allowed Madoff to rack up an incredible $65 billion” in the largest Ponzi scheme in American history.
After detailing the fall of Madoff, Campbell weaves in his next chapters, “The Rise of Madoff” and the Madoff Path to Ponzi.” “The Rise of Madoff” looks at former NASDAQ Chairman Bernie Madoff becoming a force who “revolutionized and democratized Wall Street, to the benefit of Main Street publicly.”
The Ponzi Puppeteer
Madoff used his untouchable reputation publicly to attract investors like a siren song. But privately, for decades, Madoff was siphoning billions of dollars from his clients—ranging from hedge funds and endowments to billionaires to schoolteachers. In all, Madoff duped over 37,000 clients.
The book absolutely excoriates the SEC, as Campbell rightly rips into the SEC’s examinations and inspections division for its abject failure “investigating” Madoff. “The SEC was so incompetent that not only did it never uncover the Ponzi scheme, it kept investigating the same allegations despite having cleared them previously. Madoff had the SEC chasing the wrong rabbit,” writes Campbell, himself a business journalist familiar with forensic accounting.
Campbell examines how the SEC never learned about Madoff’s infamous backrooms on the 17th floor, two floors below his pristine front offices. No Madoff employee was permitted to leave their desk without it looking perfect, Campbell tells Newsmax Finance. In fact, the Madoff offices in the so-called, pink marble Lipstick Building on Third Avenue were so movie-set perfect that the SEC would send its junior examiners to Madoff’s offices for training, Campbell reveals to Newsmax.
Campbell additionally looks at whether Madoff was the manipulator or was the one being manipulated. In his interview with Newsmax Finance, Campbell says Madoff lured his so-called “Big Four Investors”—Jeffrey Picower, Carl Shapiro, Stanley Chais and Norm Levy—in with legal tax-shelter trading strategies that he offered at a discount. Madoff also rewarded these “Big Four Investors” with far better “earnings” than those of the other Madoff victims.
In the end, of course, it was revealed that none of these annual 11% so-called returns were real. They were mere paper gains, fabricated by Madoff’s secret team on the 17th floor.
Like a master puppeteer, Madoff only revealed slices of his misdeeds to his co-conspirators, so that no one, except the sociopath himself, knew the extent of his lies.
Campbell explains in an his interview with Newsmax Finance Editor Lee Barney, that it would be unfathomable for the Big Four not to realize the consistent, 11% annual returns that Madoff claimed to deliver every year would be impossible to achieve. In fact, Bernie Madoff himself labeled all four as “complicit” in an interview from jail with the Financial Times.
The Scariest Reality
Arguably, the greatest admission of the entire book is the scariest one. The scariest reality is one that Campbell smartly explains: If the 2008 financial crash did not happen, would Madoff’s scheme still be taking place today?
Campbell explains: “Perhaps the scariest reality: absent the financial crash of 2008, Madoff might still be in business. On that fateful day of December 11, 2008, it wasn’t just a crook that was finally exposed; it was the systemic failure of the U.S. financial regulatory system and willful blindness of Wall Street. For Madoff’s Main Street victims, it was the end of innocence.”
The author tells the heartbreaking stories of how his victims reacted, with some of his victims losing their entire life savings. Jim Campbell explains how Squillari, Madoff’s personal secretary on the 19th floor (who was, tellingly, paid less than the assistant hidden on the secretive 17th floor) made it her mission to fight for justice for the victims.
Campbell writes: “Madoff’s secretary Eleanor Squillari felt deeply for the victims, saying, ‘I was angry because there were people all over the world who had lost everything. They had money put away for their kids’ college education. He ruined generations to come.” One of the lives ruined by Madoff is Major William Foxton Sr. In his book, Campbell describes the gut-wrenching story of Foxton, a British military veteran who like so many others, lost his life savings, and was driven to suicide because of Madoff’s actions.
But for all Madoff’s phenomenal success as one of the leading people on Wall Street, hailing originally from Far Rockaway, Queens, Madoff’s talents were eventually undone by his greed and insatiable need to micro manage every detail of his trade execution firm—down to the fake statements he issued to clients for decades.
Campbell tells Newsmax that Bernie Madoff showed absolutely no remorse for the pain and ruination he caused to thousands of individual people. Even to his dying days, Campbell insisted that the system on Wall Street is not just rigged but outright corrupt, and that he was a mere player in this scheme.
Earlier reviews of Madoff Talks described the page-turner in glowing terms, and rightfully so. Best-selling author and former Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter says, “Anyone who wants to know what really happened…needs to read Jim Campbell’s extraordinary book.” Best-selling author William D. Cohan says, “How Campbell got the Madoffs and so many others to talk, I'll never know. But thank goodness he did.” Finally, the founder of the investigative firm Foundation for Financial Journalism, Robby Boyd, says the book is “a triple-helix of financial loss, systemic failure, and brutally personal betrayal that becomes more nuanced—and human—with every turning page.”
A Sorrowful Tale
In closing, the entire book, from start to finish, can be defined in one word: Sad. It is sad how Madoff committed the largest Ponzi scheme in history—and the SEC never found out about it, despite eight investigations of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. Yes, you read that correctly.
It is sad how Campbell describes how the victims had to fight for justice, but for many victims 10 years later, the effects of the scheme are still acutely felt. For the majority, Bernie’s lies ruined not just their retirements, but their entire lives. That includes Mark Madoff, Bernie’s eldest son, who hung himself in his apartment on Dec. 11, 2010, the second anniversary of his father’s arrest.
What is also sad are the many stories of pain of Madoff’s victims—over 37,000 in all.
Finally, the saddest, and scariest part of all, is that if the 2008 financial crisis did not happen, Madoff may still be executing his scheme today. Jim Campbell’s book is eye-opening, page-turning poignant, deeply revealing—and a sorrowful reminder of the largest Ponzi scheme in history. But equally as important, Madoff Talks underscores why more work is needed to prevent a scheme like Madoff’s, from ever happening again.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for Jim Campbell’s interview with Newsmax Finance in January.
Jim Campbell’s upcoming speaking engagements on Madoff Talks. Book signings at each event. Please call the venues for the times, addresses and admissions information:
December 6, 2021—Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce at the Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach, Florida. (500 people are expected to attend.)
December 7—Riomar Country Club in Vero Beach, Florida
December 14—Atlantic Chapter of the Florida Institute of CPA’s - Annual Fraud Dinner. Bocaire Country Club, Boca Raton, Florida. (Campbell will be speaking for three hours.)
March, Date TBD—Temple Beth-El in Stamford, CT.
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