Bernie Madoff died today. His name will, rightfully, forever be synonymous with greed and fraud on a massive and unimaginable level. By the time his criminal enterprise was uncovered, he had already perpetuated the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. The government charged him with defrauding over $50B from thousands of victims, including charitable organizations.
It’s safe to say that no one is going to mourn his passing.
Madoff’s epic fall from grace is Shakespearean. He was once a revered Wall Street titan, where he ran NASDAQ. He was the quintessential A-Lister in the financial world, widely admired as a visionary and wizard of financial markets. People literally pleaded with him to invest their money.
But once he was exposed as a charlatan, it didn’t take long for him to lose everything – his stature, his freedom, his wife and even his two beloved sons who tragically died young deaths, one of cancer and one who took his life. His ex-daughter-in-law changed her name because she knew the Madoff moniker would be a lifetime albatross of shame around her neck.
So, the question will now be asked – was justice served? Did he get what was coming to him? Did his sentence of 150 years, in some measure, right the scales of his colossal misdeeds? A number of his victims got some recompense some years later. But many lost everything, and suffered shock and anguish that killed their spirits and, in too many instances, their physical health. The damage they suffered cannot be quantified in financial terms.
In the end, how could any criminal sentence – no matter how severe – balance out Madoff’s crimes? How does partial compensation to some of the victims make anything right? How can the loss of his children serve anything other than compounding the tragedy of his descent? Does the death of an 82-year-old man in prison somehow ease the pain of his victims?
There is nothing in the final chapter of Madoff’s life to make us feel better, or enable the aggrieved to feel rewarded. Bernie Madoff chose to abandon any shred of decency, and instead to take himself, his victims and his family on his dark walk to hell.
There cannot be joy in the news of his death. The destruction he wrought only caused outrage and sadness, and his death today changes none of that.