Daily Archives: March 11, 2009

Ponzi

The facts are not in dispute though at this point they may be not entirely complete.

“Bernard L. Madoff is facing life in prison for operating a vast Ponzi scheme that began at least 20 years ago and consumed billions of dollars of other people’s money.
While his fate will not be certain until he is sentenced, his lawyer told a federal judge on Tuesday that he intended to plead guilty on Thursday to all the criminal charges that federal prosecutors had filed against him — a list that could yield a prison sentence of 150 years.
Mr. Madoff was arrested Dec. 12 at his Manhattan home by federal agents who accused him of running what was perhaps the largest fraud in Wall Street’s history. The scheme zigzagged across the world, drawing in foreign banks, hedge funds, charities, celebrities and ordinary retirees who had entrusted their savings to his investment firm.
The charges, made public late Tuesday, offered a few fresh details about how Mr. Madoff conducted his long-running fraud. And they raised its price tag from his own estimate of $50 billion to nearly $65 billion, the total amount that thousands of customers were told they had in their accounts at his firm.
But left unanswered were questions about the involvement of family members and employees and the treatment of favored investors.
To sustain his fraud, prosecutors said, Mr. Madoff assembled an ill-trained and inexperienced clerical staff, directed them to “generate false and fraudulent documents,” told lies and supplied false records to regulators, and shuffled hundreds of millions of dollars from bank to bank to create the illusion of active trading. The government said Mr. Madoff ordered multimillion-dollar bank transfers in part “to give the appearance that he was conducting securities transactions in Europe on behalf of the investors, when, in fact, he was not.”
And, in an accusation that extends his crime’s shadow to the edges of the business where his brother and sons worked, prosecutors accused Mr. Madoff of using some of the money he gathered through his Ponzi scheme to support the supposedly legitimate wholesale stock trading operation that made his name on Wall Street.
Specifically, prosecutors said that Mr. Madoff “caused more than $250 million” he collected through his Ponzi scheme from at least 2002 through 2008 “to be directed, through a series of wire transfers, to the operating accounts that funded the operations of these businesses.”
The government also charged that he had money transferred from his firm’s London office “to purchase property and services for the personal use and benefit” of himself, his family members and his associates.
Finally, prosecutors said that Mr. Madoff — whose investors prized his steady single-digit annual returns — actually had promised select clients extraordinarily high returns, as much as 46 percent, to lure them in.
In all, Mr. Madoff was charged with 11 felony counts, including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury. Under federal sentencing guidelines, those crimes would yield a life sentence for the 70-year-old trader.”

And this in turn leads us inevitably to The Man of the Hour (see mug shot at top) and the invention with which he’s credited.

“A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term “Ponzi scheme” is used primarily in the United States, while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and pyramid schemes.[1]
The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.
The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments. Usually, the scheme is interrupted by legal authorities before it collapses because a Ponzi scheme is suspected or because the promoter is selling unregistered securities. As more investors become involved, the likelihood of the scheme coming to the attention of authorities increases.
The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi,[2] who became notorious for using the technique after immigrating from Italy to the United States in 1903. Ponzi did not invent the scheme, but his operation took in so much money that it was the first to become known throughout the United States. His original scheme was in theory based on arbitraging international reply coupons for postage stamps, but soon diverted investors’ money to support payments to earlier investors and Ponzi’s personal wealth. Charles Dickens’ 1844 novel Martin Chuzzlewitt described a Ponzi scheme decades before Ponzi was born.
Knowingly entering a Ponzi scheme, even at the last round of the scheme, can be rational in the economic sense if a government will likely bail out those participating in the Ponzi scheme.”

As we shall see.

Odd that the term is so contemporaryisn’t it? I’ll bet you thought it went back to the age of the Medicis. Well in practice it probably did. But it took Dickens to descibe it. And more recently, Alain Resnais

Meanwhile, here’s more of the skinny on Bernie.

Take it away Liza and Joel

And more to the point — Take it away Bill!