Saturday, December 11, 2010 was the two-year anniversary of the day when Bernie Madoff's sons, Mark and Andrew, contacted law enforcement officials to notify them that their father was running the largest Ponzi scheme in history. On this same day, Bernie and Ruth's oldest son, Mark, decided he could no longer take the emotional trauma and he took his life. Unfortunately, this is the second suicide linked to Bernie Madoff's scam. Just a few weeks after the Madoff scam came to light in 2008, one of his investors who managed others' money in the scame Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, was found dead after he slashed both of his wrists. Here are the gory details of Mark's suicide and some thoughts on this tragic disaster that Bernie left for others to clean up.
According to an article in the NY Times, Mark emailed and/or texted his second wife, Stephanie, several times while she was in Florida on Saturday morning and told her that someone needed to check on their two-year old son who was sleeping in the bedroom. Mark then hung himself from a beam in the apartment with a black dog leash. Stephanie Madoff's father, Martin London, found Mark dead when he came to check on the toddler.
Mark Madoff was never charged with a crime in the case but the article points out several conditions facing him in the aftermath of his father's massive fraud that had affected him tremendously. For starters, Mark was unemployed and unable to find work. He also was alienated from friends who lost their life savings in his father's scam. Not to mention that he was suspected of being involved in the scam and it was speculated that he might be charged at some point. Even if he was innocent, the trustee in the case was suing to collect assets for his father's many victims and had accused Mark and his brother Andrew of being incompetent managers. Finally, the article says that he hadn't talked to either of his parents since the day his father's scam came to light. What a mess indeed!
This is a sad story that provides a vivid view of the inevitable aftermath of a massive fraud. Like a massive F6 tornado going through the plains of Oklahoma, fraud destroys the lives of everyone in its path. Whether Mark was innocent or guilty, his life was destroyed by his father's incredibly selfish, corrupt and evil actions. And then there is Ruth--Mark's mother; her lawyer said that she is heart broken. I can only imagine. Whether she is completely innocent or totally complicit, she must be experiencing hell on earth. She must be devastated to lose everything that mattered to her almost overnight. Importantly, Ruth lost the most valuable and priceless things in life: family and friends.
Sadly, I wonder if Bernie feels any anguish from his oldest son's death. I say this because I wonder if he has a spark of conscience after all he did. In order to engage in any fraud--especially one of this scale--some incredible rationalization must occur so that the perpetrator can live with his conscience. As far as I can tell, Madoff has never shown any significant remorse or anguish over the thousands of lives he ruined. No real remorse from a man that took over $50 billion from his friends and associates in a massive fraud. Whatever he did to rationalize his fraud, he knew there was no substance to his scheme and that it would eventually collapse. He was certainly smart enough to realize that someday it would all come crumbling down. Was he hoping the scheme would last until after his death? Only he knows. However, we do know that he took hundreds of millions of dollars to buy expensive homes, jewelry, clothing, and about everything else that money could buy and for two or more decades he consumed others' hard earned money.
Fraud is essentially a huge lie that requires the perpetrator to regularly tell multiple lies to him or her self. Many fraud perpetrators become pathological liars as they come to believe their own tales. They essentially live a lie and that becomes their reality. When reality catches up to them, a perpetrator who has told as many lies as Bernie Madoff may be unable to recognize the implications of reality.
Unfortunately, this tornado has not rested yet and won't for several years if not decades...