By David Glovin and David Scheer
Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) — Bernard Madoff, founder and president of a New York firm that invested funds for wealthy individuals, hedge funds and other institutions, was charged with operating what he told employees was a long-running $50 billion Ponzi scheme in what may be one of the largest frauds in history.
Madoff, 70, head of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was arrested today at 8:30 a.m. by the FBI and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Eaton in Manhattan federal court. Charged in a criminal complaint with a single count of securities fraud, he was released on $10 million bond guaranteed by his wife and secured by his apartment. Madoff, wearing a white-striped shirt, dark-colored pants and no tie, looked down as he left the courtroom with his wife, declining to comment.
“It’s all just one big lie,” Madoff told his employees on Dec. 10, according to the government. The firm, Madoff allegedly said to them, is “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme.”
Madoff faces as much as 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted. His New York-based firm was the 23rd largest market maker on Nasdaq in October, handling a daily average of about 50 million shares a day, exchange data show. It specialized in handling orders from online brokers in some of the largest U.S. companies, including General Electric Co. and Citigroup Inc.
‘One of The Pioneers’
“He’s one of the pioneers of modern Wall Street,” said James Angel, an associate business professor at Georgetown University in Washington. Madoff’s firm was among the first to automate market-making, in which a dealer continually buys and sells stock. The company was among the largest to offer “payment for order flow,” or paying to handle customer orders.
“The exchanges didn’t like the practice and questioned whether customers got the best price,” Angel said.
Madoff was also sued today by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry,” said defense lawyer Dan Horwitz. “We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events. He’s a person of integrity.”
Fix Asset Management in New York, which had at least $400 million with Madoff, said it was checking with its lawyers regarding its holdings.
“We are very shocked,” John Fix, the son of founder Charles Fix, said by telephone from Greece. “We put in redemptions in the past few months and got our money back no problem. We are just so surprised about all this.”
‘Accelerating Their Redemptions’
Thomas Ajamie, a securities lawyer in Houston who won a $429 million arbitration award against Paine Webber Group in 2001, speculated that Madoff “couldn’t keep the Ponzi scheme going because investors were accelerating their redemptions.”
New York-based Fairfield Greenwich Group runs the $7.3 billion Fairfield Sentry Ltd., a fund that invested in Madoff. Andrew Ludwig, a spokesman for Fairfield, declined to immediately comment.
The SEC in its complaint, also filed in Manhattan federal court, accused Madoff of a “multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme that he perpetrated on advisory clients of his firm.”
The agency said it’s seeking emergency relief for investors, including an asset freeze and the appointment of a receiver for the firm. Ira Sorkin, another defense lawyer for Madoff, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Madoff ran his investment advisory business from a separate floor of his firm’s office, keeping financial statements “under lock and key,” prosecutors said. Early in December, he told one employee that clients wanted to redeem about $7 billion and that he was struggling to free up the funds, the government said. After he told another staff member Dec. 9 that he wanted to pay annual bonuses before the year’s end, two months early, a pair of senior employees asked to speak with him, prosecutors said.
They had noticed he had been suffering from a “great deal of stress” and wanted to know what was happening, the U.S. said. When one of them challenged his explanations, Madoff invited them to his Manhattan apartment, saying he “wasn’t sure he would be able to hold it together” if they continued talking at the office, the government said.
While meeting the pair at his home yesterday, Madoff conceded that he was “finished,” that his advisory business is “all just one big lie” and “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme,” the government said. The business had been insolvent for years with losses of about $50 billion, he told the employees, according to the criminal and SEC complaints.
Madoff said he had about $200 million to $300 million left and planned to distribute money to select employees, family and friends before surrendering to authorities in about a week, the government said.
Confessed to FBI
Madoff allegedly confessed to FBI agent Theodore Cacioppi on Dec. 11, saying there was “no innocent explanation,” the SEC said in its complaint. Madoff said it was his fault and he had “paid investors with money that wasn’t there.” He also said he was “insolvent” and he expected to go to jail, it said.
The Madoff firm had about $17.1 billion in assets under management as of Nov. 17, according to NASD records. At least 50 percent of its clients were hedge funds, and others included banks and wealthy individuals, according to the records.
Madoff started his firm in 1960 with $5,000 of savings and took advantage of securities-law changes in the 1970s designed to spur competition in U.S. stock markets, according to a profile posted on the Web site Finance Tech.
75 Percent Owner
Madoff, who owned more than 75 percent of his firm, and his brother Peter are the only two individuals listed on regulatory records as “direct owners and executive officers.”
Peter Madoff was a board member of the St. Louis brokerage firm A.G. Edwards Inc. from 2001 through last year, when it was sold to Wachovia Corp.
Bernard Madoff served as vice chairman of the National Association of Securities Dealers, a member of its board of governors, and chairman of its New York region, according to the SEC Web site. He was also a member of Nasdaq Stock Market’s board of governors and its executive committee and served as chairman of its trading committee.
He was chief of the Securities Industry Association’s trading committee in the 1990s and earlier this decade, where he represented brokerage firms in discussions with regulators about new stock-market rules as electronic-trading systems and networks gained prominence.
He was an early advocate for electronic trading, participating in roundtable discussions at the SEC as regulators weighed trading stocks in penny increments. His firm was among the first to make markets in New York Stock Exchange listed stocks outside of the Big Board, relying instead on Nasdaq.
‘Third Market Makers’
“These guys were one of the original, if not the original, third market makers,” said Joseph Saluzzi, the co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading LLC in Chatham, New Jersey. “They had a great business and they were good with their clients. They were around for a long time. He’s a well-respected guy in the industry.”
At 6:30 p.m., security guards at the front desk of the lipstick-shaped building on Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan housing Madoff’s office were turning people away. Ganesh Sewpershad, a messenger with Speeddox, said he had been trying to deliver mail for 20 minutes and was told to return tomorrow.
Madoff’s Web site advertises the “high ethical standards” of his firm.
“In an era of faceless organizations owned by other equally faceless organizations, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC harks back to an earlier era in the financial world: The owner’s name is on the door,” according to the Web site. “Clients know that Bernard Madoff has a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing, and high ethical standards that has always been the firm’s hallmark.”
The case is U.S. v. Madoff, 08-MAG-02735, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan)
To contact the reporter on this story: David Glovin in U.S. District Court in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org and; David Scheer in New York at email@example.com.