MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now to corruption of the highest level here in the U.S. A few weeks ago, Steve Fishman's phone rang. He's a contributing editor with New York Magazine, and he's been writing about Bernard Madoff. On a scratchy phone line, calling collect, was Madoff himself. He's now serving 150 years in federal prison in North Carolina for a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
Madoff wanted to tell his side of the story. He told Fishman that when he first revealed his scheme his wife, Ruth, was in shock.
(Soundbite of an audiotape)
Mr. BERNARD MADOFF (Former Stock Broker/Investment Advisor): And angry at me, of course. How could she not be angry at me?
Mr. STEVE FISHMAN (Contributing Editor, New York Magazine): Yeah.
Mr. MADOFF: You know, she tries not to be, but it's hard not to be. And you know, I destroyed our family.
BLOCK: And Steve Fishman joins me for more on his conversations with Bernard Madoff.
You've been working on this article for a while, trying to get Bernard Madoff to get in touch with you from prison. And ultimately, he did call you. Why do you think he reached out now?
Mr. FISHMAN: There's probably several reasons that Bernie reached out to me. One of them was that he has a story that he feels hasn't been told. He - whether it's self-deluded or not, he feels he's been mischaracterized, and he wants to tell that story. I suspect that another reason, perhaps at a less-conscious level, was that he has been cut off completely now from a family that he was very close to for years and years. And I almost suspect that he wanted to speak to me as a way of communicating to his family.
BLOCK: He's been cut off from them because, well, in the case of one son, the son has committed suicide. His wife now will not be in touch with him, and his other son has completely broken off ties with him.
Mr. FISHMAN: That's correct. His remaining son is furious at him. His wife, Ruth, initially stood by him but now has decided that she can't talk to him.
BLOCK: You opened your article in New York Magazine with the anecdote of Bernard Madoff going to see a therapist every week. And according to Bernie Madoff, he asked her: Am I a sociopath? What does he claim that he heard back from the therapist?
Mr. FISHMAN: Well, Bernie was very concerned by this question because he told her that: Everybody on the outside thinks I'm a sociopath. And she, according to Bernie Madoff, said: No, you're not a sociopath. You have remorse; you have morals. And then it was later in the conversation that Bernie added to me: I am a good person.
BLOCK: You know, as I read and listen to the audio of these phone calls, it doesn't strike me that Bernard Madoff is filled with remorse. I'm not hearing the voice of a man who regrets a lot of what he did. Were you hearing that?
Mr. FISHMAN: I did hear that. I heard words to that effect. Now, remorse is a complicated thing in Bernie Madoff. And I don't think that he is prepared to shoulder - certainly not all of the blame. And to some extent, it's true that he minimizes his part in it.
BLOCK: Yeah, that's an interesting point. Bernard Madoff, in these conversations, seems to have an odd combination of some level of regret, but also distain for some of the investors who gave him tons of money over the years.
Let's listen to some of what he told you.
(Soundbite of an audiotape)
Mr. MADOFF: Did I make a lot of money for people? Yeah, I made a lot of money for people. You know, did people lose profits that they thought they made? Yes. You know, but did they lose capital? I'm sure, I'm confident that when this thing is all finished, very few people, if any, will lose their principal.
BLOCK: So he seems to be saying there, look, they'll get their money back through the trustee that's looking into all this.
Mr. FISHMAN: Bernie follows his case very closely in the newspapers. And his calculation is that people will get back their principal, the money they invested - which, if you look at the trustee's figures, may actually be right.
Now, I don't think it's a straight line from there to feeling like this is no big deal. I don't think that Bernie Madoff fully understands the level of destruction, the level of havoc that he's caused in people's lives.
BLOCK: I was looking through some of the comments on New York Magazine's website, and one of them said this: Madoff is a pathological liar. You facilitate his falsehoods by publishing this unsubstantiated view of his quote, early career.
I wonder how Bernard Madoff's victims would read what you've written here, and if they would get any comfort from it all.
Mr. FISHMAN: I think his victims will be furious, and rightly so. He told me at one point, he said listen, a lot of my - and I'm paraphrasing here - and he said: Listen, a lot of my victims are going to tell you that they're living out of Dumpsters now, and I'm sure that it's awful for some of them, but not many of them were net losers.
I can't imagine that his victims will be happy to read that.
BLOCK: Steve Fishman, contributing editor for New York Magazine; his article is titled "The Madoff Tapes." Steve, thanks very much.
Mr. FISHMAN: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.