STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, one year ago this month, Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to operating the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. He ran his operation for decades, and government regulators never found out until Madoff confessed.
Harry Markopolos knew what was going on. He was a financial analyst who repeatedly warned the SEC about Madoff and was ignored. So now, he's written a book called "No One Would Listen."
The story starts when Markopolos was working at a financial firm in Boston that was losing customers to Madoff. His boss asked him to replicate Madoff's financial strategy.
Mr. HARRY MARKOPOLOS (Author, "No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller"): They bought into the story. They bought into his patina of respectability, that he was a market maker, one of the largest on the street. They thought he was a Wall Street titan, and they had no reason to doubt him. But they didnt know the math, like I did.
INSKEEP: And what made it so obvious that Bernard Madoff could not be making the returns that he was claiming?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: Oh, in five minutes, I knew. I read his strategy statement and it was so poorly put together. His strategy, as depicted, would have trouble beating a zero return. And then his performance chart went up at 45-degree line. That line doesnt exist in finance; it only exists in geometry classes.
INSKEEP: I dont want to get too deeply into this, but he had a strategy - he claimed to have a strategy of buying and selling stocks in such a way that it would minimize his losses, perhaps limit his gains as well. But he claimed it would lock in a steady, good return that was a little better than the market, right?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: He did, but his trading size would've been so large it would've moved the markets dramatically. And we never saw his footprints in the market, which was clearly impossible. He couldnt have been there - and that's because he wasnt.
INSKEEP: Meaning that he wasnt trading at all?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: He never traded.
INSKEEP: It was all made up.
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: It was all made up, and his story was so fanciful and so farfetched that the SEC should've seen through it immediately - and they didnt. I went to them with it and I went to numerous financial press, and people didnt believe me because they said it was too big; it couldnt be Bernie. He's too well respected. Why would he need to steal? He's already wealthy. So they couldnt put two and two together.
INSKEEP: Now, youre referring to the Securities and Exchange Commission. They, themselves, have put out a report on why they overlooked Bernard Madoff and overlooked your tips, specifically, for so long. The record is interesting. They're some people who seemed to have believed you at the SEC, and some people who seem not to have believed you. What happened? Why did it take them so long to get around to you?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: Well, Boston - the people in Boston knew me. I had worked with the Boston SEC staff repeatedly. They considered me a very good source, a credible source. But the people in New York, they dont trust anybody in Boston. There were regional turf rivalries. They got along as about as well as the Yankees and the Red Sox did, unfortunately.
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: And there was no national office of the whistleblower in Washington to referee and coordinate the regions. And so the regions didnt like each other - those two offices - and I had nowhere else to turn.
INSKEEP: But there was also an SEC official who said later - well, you know, this guy, Markopolos, isn't really a whistleblower. He's not an employee of Madoff who's blowing the whistle, somebody on the inside. He's not even an investor whos grumpy. He's just somebody on the outside who's taking potshots.
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: That same person, in her deposition, said that the only way I would qualify as a whistleblower is if I came in with a tape recording of Bernie Madoff admitting that he was running a Ponzi scheme.
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: Well, obviously, I didnt have that tape - and if I did, I wouldnt have needed the SEC.
INSKEEP: Maybe there's a lesson here, on how you learn things - because you weren't working with information that was inside in any way, were you?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: No. It was publicly available information. My team and I, we used cover stories. We pretended to - wanted to invest in the Madoff complex through his feeder funds, which were the tentacles that were scamming in the victims from around the globe. And we'd ask questions, pretending to invest a lot of money. And those feeder funds would tell us everything. They'd open their kimonos and we'd get their documents, we'd get their financial statements, and that's how we pieced the case together.
INSKEEP: How did Madoff and his colleagues respond to you over the years, knowing that you were going after them in this way?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: If Madoff had known that I was going after him, he would've had me killed. He was taking money from the wrong people. He was zeroing out accounts from the Latin American drug cartels and the Russian mob, and other organized criminal elements.
INSKEEP: Why do you think he would've had you killed?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: Well, if those organized crime gangs had known that he was stealing from them, they certainly would've killed him. And so he'd have a choice: Does he want to live, or does he want me dead? And that was his choice, and I dont think he would've flinched for one second.
INSKEEP: This is an even more ruthless picture of the man than a guy who steals almost by guile or by charm. What evidence suggests that he was involved with organized crime?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: He was using offshore companies called feeder funds. These were companies that were sending him victims on a price-per-head basis. He had 59 different management companies in over 40 nations across the world, feeding him victims. He had a massive conspiracy going. He had a lot of people helping him. He did not act alone. And if you notice, he took the full, 150-year sentence. He has not cooperated. He's operating under the code of silence - omerta.
INSKEEP: Did you ever talk to the man?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: I never met him. Only one man on my team, the investigative journalist Michael Ocrant, had ever met Madoff.
INSKEEP: Would you like to meet him now?
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: I've been asked that repeatedly, and no. I think he's a pathological liar. Why would I want to sit there and be lied to?
INSKEEP: Harry Markopolos, thanks very much.
Mr. MARKOPOLOS: Thank you.