STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The many victims of Bernard Madoff are still looking for their money. At the same time, many writers are looking for answers. They're trying to better understand the man who admitted running a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Half a dozen books have now been published about the scandal and we're going to review some of them this morning with NPR's Jim Zarroli. He covered the Madoff story as it unfolded. Jim, good morning.
JIM ZARROLI: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: I want to start with what's known here: Bernard Madoff - billions of dollars disappeared, a guilty plea, lots of bright people who seemed to lose everything - what's unknown here?
ZARROLI: I think what we've never really had is sort of a look inside the operation, and there are big questions about how it worked and who knew what. For instance, Madoff had a lot of his relatives working in the firm in one way or another - a lot of other people too. We don't really know at this point, how many of them knew what was going on, to what extent they knew, what Madoff told them; and I think that's really what we're going to find out in the months ahead.
INSKEEP: And what some of these authors try and take a swing at, the first we'll talk about is Jerry Oppenheimer. The book is called "Madoff With the Money." Who is he and what approach does he take?
ZARROLI: Well, you know, I would say the tone of the book is a little bit more tabloidy than some of the others. Jerry Oppenheimer is a writer who's had some best-selling books in the past. It's an interesting book and one of the things it says is that there really was something almost kind of a little bit sleazy about Bernie Madoff from the beginning. You might almost say he was born into it.
His mother, who was a housewife in Queens, ran what appears to have been an illegal stock trading operation that was shut down by the SEC. Oppenheimer makes the case that Madoff basically got his start doing business with a firm that was manipulating stock prices. It may even have had ties to the Mafia, and this went on throughout Bernie Madoff's career. At one point, he paid two accountants to raise money for him, even though they weren't registered as investment advisors.
They later got in trouble with the SEC. So Bernie Madoff had this very respectable sort of elder statesmen image on Wall Street. It was something he had built up for himself. But really, as Jerry Oppenheimer's book makes clear, he was somebody who had had a long history of sort of skirting the law in different ways.
INSKEEP: So the theory of Bernie Madoff as a - almost a character from the movie "Double Indemnity," somebody who is basically a good guy, but who has gradually gotten himself in more and more trouble - that doesn't ring true for Jerry Oppenheimer?
ZARROLI: No, and I have to say that in the beginning, that was what I thought Bernie Madoff was about. But I think as time has gone on, it's been kind of hard to keep believing that, and I think Jerry Oppenheimer just adds more evidence to that.
INSKEEP: So that's one take on Bernie Madoff. What about this book here "Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff" by Andrew Kirtzman?
ZARROLI: Well, I think Andrew Kirtzman's book is probably the most readable of the books, especially for people who don't know a lot about Madoff. It kind of reads more like a novel. One of the things that Kirtzman did was he talked to some of the people who worked inside Madoff's office, and he has some interesting things to say about the SEC. He says that the SEC would send these very young, very inexperienced staff members in to question Madoff any time they did an investigation. And these young people would come into Madoff's office, which was in the Lipstick Building in midtown - beautiful offices - and they would just look around. And they would get bowled over. They would get intimidated. And sometimes they would even ask the staff, you know, are there any jobs open here?
INSKEEP: So we begin to get a sense of, perhaps, not exactly his financial method, but at least his style - it ran in the family, or so it seems - and he had a very impressive presence, great salesmanship or intimidating salesmanship, even with the SEC. What, if anything, gets added to that picture by the next book on our list here, "Madoff: Too Good to Be True" by Erin Arvedlund?
ZARROLI: Now Erin Arvedlund is a financial reporter for Barrons, and she is always going to be remembered for having written an article questioning Madoff's returns way back in 2001. It caused kind of a minor stir on Wall Street.
She's very good at explaining the financial side to this, which is really a huge part of the story - in particular how Bernie Madoff was able to build up this huge network of feeder funds and banks that kept funneling money to him over the years. I mean he was not out - for the most part - asking people for money. They came to him. And one of the reasons why he could do that was because he had all these funds that were collecting money and giving it to him to invest.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Jim Zarroli who covered the Bernard Madoff scandal, who's been reading some of the new books about it. And Jim, so far these are books we've been discussing by writers who did not personally know Madoff, although they talked to everybody they could. This last work is an exception to that.
ZARROLI: Yeah, this was "Madoff's Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me" and it was written by Cheryl Weinstein. She was the chief financial officer at Hadassah, which is a Jewish women's charity. Hadassah, over the years, had invested about $40 million with Madoff and she says Hadassah would try to find out what they could about Madoff, they tried to find out how he could get these returns, but he refused to answer questions. He would not meet with the financial advisory committee of the organization. She actually ended up having an affair with Madoff, which lasted for about a year and a half. I spoke with Cheryl Weinstein recently.
Ms. CHERYL WEINSTEIN (Author, "Madoff's Other Secret): I think maybe one of the reasons, maybe, Bernie liked me was I didn't ask too many questions. I'm the type of person that I let people disclose themselves rather than ask more and more questions. And I think if I had been the type that asked more and more questions, he probably wouldn't have liked that.
INSKEEP: I wonder if she had been the type who asked more and more questions, if Hadassah would not have invested their money with Madoff.
ZARROLI: Yeah, I think that's undoubtedly true. But then again, not many people did that and not many charities did that either, which is why so many of them lost so much money.
INSKEEP: Jim Zarroli, these books do seem to give a richer and richer sense of Bernard Madoff's personality, his background, his salesmanship, his style, but do you, in reading them, get any better sense of where the money went?
ZARROLI: You really don't and that's one of the things that law enforcement officials are still looking at. And I think we are going to know more. One of Madoff's top aids, Frank DiPascali is now cooperating with the government and he's going to shed a lot more light on how Madoff's operation worked. But the definitive Bernie Madoff book is yet to be written.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jim Zarroli, thanks very much.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: And you can find more about those books at npr.org.
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