So, Bernie Madoff gets the max, 150 years in jail and forfeiture of every penny he has, and then some. He was ordered by the judge to cough up $171 billion smackeroos in restitution, a sum even Bill Gates can’t cover. Everybody knows the thousands of victims of his Ponzi scheme will never recover anything but pennies on the dollar and that Bernie won’t live for all that much of his sentence, what with him being in his 70’s and all, but the judge felt that a message had to be sent. Not the message that people with tens of millions of dollars to invest definitely know better than to hand their dough to a guy promising gangster loan shark interest rate numbers as a return on their investments and when they do so they are knowingly aiding and abetting a crime.
No, no that message. The message is; don’t mess with rich people’s dough! That’s why bank robbers get sentenced to 30 years while those who rob grocery stores get maybe 8 or 10 years, tops, as long as no bloodshed is involved. While Bernie Madoff wasn’t at all violent and even had the enthusiastic cooperation of a great many of his victims, he chose to rip off the very wealthy. None of them will be prosecuted for knowingly investing in a pyramid scheme. They will suffer a horrible fate nonetheless: most of them will be just regular rich instead of fabulously rich. One lady even looked for sympathy because she had to sell her $48,000 fur coat. Get out the hankies and violins.
Take his lovely wife Ruth Madoff, for example. She just cut a deal with prosecutors allowing her to keep “only” $2.5 million dollars. Most of the world (my hand is raised, thank you) would jump at that deal, but Mrs. Madoff acts like she has been sentenced to live in a corrugated tin shack with no plumbing and eat cold gruel for the rest of her life. Not exactly. While she won’t be living in a Manhattan penthouse worth tens of millions of dollars anymore, getting two and a half million won’t exactly place her in the position of having to get on line at the next government cheese handout. Even putting that dough in the bank at the paltry interest rate of 2 and a quarter percent would yield her an annual income of $62,500 before taxes, well above the national average. Add her social security to that and she’ll be just fine; well fed, properly housed, medically insured and quite comfortable. No tragedy there.
The tragedy is the non-fabulously wealthy people Madoff ripped off, honest workers who scrimped and saved and trusted their nest egg to a thief and are now near destitute as they face old age. Then there’s the people who trusted other financial planners with their fortunes, people you expect to actively manage your money prudently and not hand it over to a guy they had to know was running a scam. Are any of these finance professionals facing criminal charges, or at the very least industry sanctions for abandoning their responsibilities to their clients for a fast buck? While many of them are being sued for malfeasance and corruption or scamming or whatever the legal term is for stealing a whole lot of money as opposed to stealing a more modest amount, so far prosecutors are acting like they cracked the case completely with the sentencing of Madoff.
But who knows? Maybe the District Attorney’s office has more indictments up its sleeve. It’s hard to believe that Madoff pulled this off with no accomplices other than his greedy rich clients trying to earn double the going rate on their money. There had to be a lot of high ranking people in his office who were in on the scam. What about his secretary? Secretaries know everything about the businesses where they work. You’d hate to see a low paid working stiff go to jail, but what if that low paid working stiff aided and abetted a huge crime? Then there would be the other executives in Madoff’s firm, really rich guys like himself who may or may not be claiming they were as surprised as the rest of the world that the company they helped run was a neatly wrapped box of air. The DA is playing followup indictments and charges close to the vest.
But the bottom line is that the rich really, really hate giving up any of their dough. Every dollar they spend makes them a dollar less rich. That’s the mindset that led Wall Street to become an entire culture of Bernie Madoffs, as greedy and unscrupulous a bunch of louts as Ebenezer Scrooge. They ruined the good names and the very existence of respected companies that had been doing honest business for many decades, some of them for over a century. These were companies and individuals who made great fortunes playing it straight, following the rules and reaping the rewards of being at the highest levels of the one of the most rewarding businesses on earth.
All they were asked to do was not fuck it up. This was the golden goose that would provide them and their descendants with fabulous livings forever. Just don’t fuck it up! Not a lot to ask. But greed is a powerful force, one all human beings have to one degree or another, even though we know it’s wrong. Half the laws we have on the books are aimed at curbing greed. “Thou shalt not steal” is a prominent early example. But in recent years, beginning with Ronald Reagan de-clawing the regulatory agencies overseeing the people who handle everybody’s money, greed became fashionable. Fast forward twenty two years to Bush the Younger and Shotgun Dick Cheney getting elected, and they ratcheted up greed to official government policy.
They actively gutted the financial regulatory agencies by underfunding them and not hiring replacement personnel when people retired. Then they implemented the most massive peacetime transfer of wealth from the working classes to the super wealthy in human history in the form of tax cuts. It got to the point of having less than 1% of the population owning the majority of the nation’s wealth. Then of course it all blew up in everybody’s face and the government was forced to bail out these greedy pricks to the tune of trillions of tax dollars, which they then proceeded to blow on hookers and Picassos until a few of them got their asses fired.
And the rest of them still don’t really get it, they just toe the line to avoid jail. Neither does Madoff get it, who thought 12 years in the slammer and a hundred dollar fine sounded okay to him. The judge disagreed and gave him 150 years, only because he wasn’t allowed to give him a thousand. Bernie needs some company in the form of Wall Street felons in prison, his fellow greed heads, people who were in essence handed America on a silver platter and asked only that they not fuck it up. They weren’t handed a seedy currency exchange booth in an open air bazaar in some desert nation, but the gleaming towers of Wall street, private jets, mansions, exotic vacation homes and trophy wives. They were modern day princes and nicknamed themselves “Masters of The Universe.”
And yet this was not enough. They wanted Bill Gates money, all of them, even though they had invented nothing, and they lied, cheated and stole to make it happen, very nearly taking the entire country down with them when their house of cards collapsed. Mr. Madoff was merely the most audacious and conspicuous of the thieves. And just maybe Madoff did the country a favor for being so public a greedy asshole. The credit card companies and banks have been quietly ripping off poor and working class people for decades with usurious rates and hidden fees, but Bernie mostly targeted the very wealthy, and when you go after rich people’s money, the shit hits the fan big time. The whole world watched this tawdry saga unfold. And now Madoff gets the max, waiting for some his colleagues to join him.
Maybe they can form a new prison gang, selling cigarettes, drugs and shivs to their fellow inmates at outrageously high prices. Call themselves the Ex-Billionaires or Masters of The Universe or something catchy like that. That will probably go over with the tattooed and muscular lifers about as well as a 3 day lock down and before long these bankers and CEOs will be doing the laundry and cleaning the cells of guys named Big Jamal, One-Eyed Freddy and Vinny The Neck. Then perhaps the rest of the financial services community will get it though their heads that greed isn’t good.
Maybe they’ll figure they’ll just have to eke out a living somehow on their million dollar salaries and pay their taxes like everyone else. It’s either that or One Eyed Freddy. From a lot of us who have a hard time working up any hatred for a guy who never did anything to us since we didn’t have enough dough for him to steal, thanks Bernie! You’ve done your nation a service. In a pretty shitty way, but a service just the same. You’ve brought the world’s attention to the biggest ring of thieves that ever lived. Let’s make Bernie just the first of many members of the Ex-Billionaires prison gang.