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“Too Good To Be True”: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff by Erin Arvedlund

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Too Good to Be True –
Arvedlund’s In-Depth Look at Madoff

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Too Good
to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff
by Erin
Arvedlund

Buy new: $17.13 / Used from:
$7.44
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by Annie Scott
Too
Good to Be True
” is a new book by Erin Arvedlund which chronicles
the catastrophic fraud committed by Bernard Madoff over the last
no-one-knows-how-many years. 

Arvedlund wrote a Barron’s article
back in 2001 called “Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell
” questioning the magical returns of Madoff’s
so-called “hedge fund,” which is now widely accepted to have been the
largest, most outrageous, most ginormously craptastic,
how-do-I-express-without-cursing Ponzi scheme in history.

“Her
article in Barron’s, based on more than one hundred interviews, could
have prevented a lot of misery, had the SEC followed up,” boasts the
jacket of her new book “Too Good to be True,” which was released August
11.

I didn’t know what to make of the book at first; it seemed to
read somewhat Biblically — a lot of begetting (who Madoff knew, how he
knew them, etc.) and not a lot of action. For the first 100 pages or so
I kept thinking “Arvedlund had better sex this up,” especially
considering the number of other books on Madoff, including the highly
anticipated “Madoff’s
Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me
” by his mistress, Sheryl
Weinstein, released August 25.

Well, if money is your porn, you
won’t get through this book without removing an article of clothing.

The
book slowly becomes a whodunit, naming both names and numbers and
ultimately presenting the unsatisfying fact that Madoff got away with
one of the oldest tricks in the book — the same trick relied upon by
everyone from white collar criminals to wedding crashers and underage
drinkers — he pretended nothing was wrong, and so nobody asked him any
questions.

As the story picks up, it becomes the heroic tale of
Harry Markopolos, whom Arvedlund wisely and perhaps correctly dubs an
Everyman; “a straightforward American guy who liked numbers.” This man
practically gift-wrapped red flags and hand-delivered them to the SEC
for a decade preceding Bernard Madoff’s arrest. Reading, I felt a
discouragement with our country’s level of corruption I haven’t felt
since I watched Michael Moore’s damning portrait of war and the oil
industry, “Fahrenheit
9/11
.” The SEC was created during the Great Depression to regulate
our financial industry, but, according to Arvedlund, it’s being run by a
bunch of early-career lawyers who don’t want to step on anyone’s toes
— and who were getting their financial advice from Uncle Bernie
himself.

The book has no mercy on Madoff — there is no point at
which we are expected to believe in him. It simply relays the facts like
an obituary; one which gets juicier and juicier as it exposes the
cyclone of fraud which took place. It was executed in such simple and
easily understandable ways — virtually the whole scheme seems to have
relied upon Madoff’s refusal to upgrade an archaic computer system which
required one to enter stock price data manually. “Entering the data by
hand [Robert] MacMahon noted, meant that the person doing it could put
in whatever they wanted,” writes Arvedlund. As you probably already
know, Bernie found himself in the business of making up numbers. The
book purports that he created monthly statements by going back over the
last month’s market and seeing what he would have had to trade to make
the profit he claimed to have made (which I’m guessing someone else
probably did for him while he was in France, buying his third boat).

The
book recounts the aftermath well; the suicides, the testimonials in
court (left me wanting more), and delicately suggests other individuals
who could be to blame; for example Michael Bienes, who did a lot of
recruiting for Madoff — a pointed final statement in the section about
him says “At the time of this writing, no one has sued Bienes over his
ties to Madoff.”

“Too Good to Be True” will appeal to both the
savvier members of the financial community who knew (or should have
known) better than to trust Madoff, and to the underdogs and
mom-and-pops who were (or might have been) swindled. The lesson is
clear: no one should be so well-respected that they don’t have to answer
questions, and if everyone pretends they understand something they
don’t so as to appear sophisticated, or they accept being kept in the
dark about the means so long as the ends are 10-20+ percent, villains
like Madoff will always be able to take advantage of that pride and
greed — not to say that his victims were guilty of either; it’s the
feeder funds and his recruiters at whom we should all be looking. And,
of course, probably his family and everyone else who worked alongside
his IBM AS/400.

In these economic times, most of us have had a
taste of what it’s like to lose money, and it’s easy to identify with
Madoff’s victims. I found myself choked up at the end of the book — not
because the damages will perhaps never be repaid, not because our
country seems to constantly wager the well-being of its citizens (I’m
speaking of the SEC dot gov’s alleged shameless favoritism), but because
although he was one of the most well-connected, powerful, and
untouchable figures in the world, they got him. It took the collapse of
the financial market, but they finally, finally got him.

Well
done to Arvedlund for telling the story clearly and with more facts than
most of us knew were available. “Too
Good to Be True
” is available from Amazon
for $17.13.


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