Madoff’s Follies

Exhibit on Ponzi schemer opens at National Museum on Crime and Punishment

Bernie Madoff / AP
May 21, 2013

Bernie Madoff joined the most notorious criminals in U.S. history, becoming a permanent fixture at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment on Tuesday.

The new Madoff exhibit contains personal and business items from the career of a man who defrauded thousands of investors out of billions of dollars, such as the master key to Madoff’s investment securities offices in Manhattan, letters he wrote from his prison cell, and a personalized baseball bat he received from Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets and cofounder of a financial firm that lost hundreds of millions in Madoff’s funds.

Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer of the museum, said she consulted victims and family members of Madoff, including his son Andrew, to compile items for the exhibit.

"[Andrew] still does not talk to his father. He was greatly impacted though his division was innocent," she said.

Many of Madoff’s former employees were unaware of the scheme and remain unemployed, she said.

Madoff pleaded guilty on March 12, 2009, to defrauding about 4,500 total investors in an elaborate Ponzi scheme in which he paid off clients with money from other investors rather than profits. He was sentenced to the maximum 150 years in prison.

Fourteen people have been arrested and charged with crimes related to the Madoff scheme, according to James Barnacle, supervisory special agent of the FBI Economic Crimes Unit.

Madoff’s other son, Mark, committed suicide on Dec. 11, 2010, the two-year anniversary of his father’s arrest. Andrew Madoff received a hand-written letter from his father, which is now in the exhibit, a year later.

"Andy, I’m so sorry for everything. Please never forget how much I love you and Mark," the letter says.

Madoff said he feels responsible for his son’s suicide in a recent phone interview with CNNMoney from the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.

"I was responsible for my son Mark's death and that's very, very difficult," he said. "I live with that. I live with the remorse, the pain I caused everybody, certainly my family, and the victims."

Victims of Madoff’s scheme continue to seek legal retribution for the loss of their savings and retirement income. Barnacle said about $3.5 billion has been returned to victims, though the entire Ponzi scheme is believed to have defrauded investors of more than $65 billion.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last month rejected a suit by victims of Madoff against the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to detect the scheme. The court expressed sympathy for the victims and lamented the SEC’s "regrettable inaction" in its ruling.

A 2009 Inspector General’s report found the SEC failed to uncover Madoff’s scheme despite three examinations, two investigations, and six substantive complaints between June 1992 and December 2008. Madoff eventually admitted the crime to his two sons, who alerted federal authorities in 2008.

The Madoff exhibit is adjacent to a display for former conman Frank Abagnale, who was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can.