Madoff's Most Astounding Rationalizations

In a dozen or so interviews with New York magazine, the prodigious Ponzi schemer rationalizes and explains away decades of lies and deceit

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As he serves out his 150-year prison sentence, Bernard Madoff wants to "set the record straight." In a series of interviews with New York magazine's Steve Fishman, the former investment adviser tells his side of the story. The article will give little solace to the victims of Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme--the 72-year-old explains away decades of deceptive behavior. "I’m not the kind of person I'm being portrayed as,” he says. "I am a good person." The article also reveals a man abandoned by his family with few else to turn to. Following the suicide of his son Mark, Madoff has been unable to contact his son Andrew or wife Ruth.

"Madoff had a purpose in reaching out to me," Fishman writes. "The record, as he sees it, should reflect that he'd risen from modest beginnings to change the way business is done on Wall Street. Even from prison, he is determined to resurrect his legacy."

We've rounded up Madoff's most startling rationalizations:

The Market Is Rigged Anyway: Describing his earlier career, Fishman says Madoff had a chip on his shoulder and a contempt for Wall Street. "It was always a business where you had to have an edge, and the little guy never got a break. The institutions controlled everything," he said. "I realized from a very early stage that the market is a whole rigged job. There's no chance that investors have in this market."

I Tried to Give the Money Back: "I was always able to rationalize it … Look, I tried to give moneys back to my individual clients when I realized it was impossible to get myself out. I tried to return funds to my friends, moneys to the smaller clients. They wouldn't take it back … Everybody said, 'No, you can't do that. You can't send me my money back. I've been a friend of yours, or a client, for years' … I couldn't tell them I would have been doing them a favor. I couldn't. I mean, could I have insisted? Yes. I did block it out of my mind," he said. "I had no choice."

It Was Their Fault for Trusting Me: Fishman says Madoff distributes his guilt to the industry he worked in. "Look, these banks and these funds had to know there were problems," he said. “I wouldn't give them any facts, like how much volume I was doing. I was not willing to have them come up and do the due diligence that they wanted. I absolutely refused to do it. I said, 'You don’t like it, take your money out,' which of course they never did."

My Clients Were Rich: "Look, none of my clients, even if they lost every penny they put in there, can plead poverty," he said. "Look, it doesn’t mean I’m excusing what I did, doesn’t mean I don’t feel sorry for them. I’m embarrassed … It was the people that came in very late in the game that got hurt. All of my friends, most of my individual clients, are not net losers,” he said. “Now if you listen to [them], they’re living out of Dumpsters and they don't have any money, and I’m sure it’s a traumatic experience to some, but I made a lot of money for people. Does it justify it? No." He says his close friend Carl Shapiro used the money Madoff made him to build "more hospitals in Boston and put more buildings in Brandeis University than you can imagine."

I Did Great Things, Remember:  Of his legacy, Madoff wondered: "Does anybody want to hear that I had a successful business and did all these wonderful things for the industry? And got all these awards? And so did my family? I did all of this during the legitimate years. No. You don't read any of that."

My Therapist Says I'm Fine: During one of his therapy sessions in prison, Madoff asked a question. “Everybody on the outside kept claiming I was a sociopath," he said. “Am I a sociopath?" "You're absolutely not a sociopath," his therapist replied. "You have morals. You have remorse."

Bonus: You Think I'm Bad: Of Goldman Sachs he says "it's unbelievable no one has any criminal convictions--the whole new regulatory reform is a joke. The whole government is a Ponzi scheme."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.