JEREMY HOBSON: Bernie Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence for carrying out the largest ponzi scheme in history. Journalist Diana Henriques was the first to interview Madoff in prison. And she’s got a book out this week about his rise and fall. It’s called ‘The Wizard of Lies‘ and Diana Henriques joins us now from New York.
DIANA HENRIQUES: Good morning Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, you were the first person to interview Bernie Madoff in prison. What was he like?
HENRIQUES: The first visit that I had with him, he was very crisp, very dapper. My second visit in February, I saw just a dramatic change after his son’s suicide. He was shattered. In fact there was a button unbuttoned on his shirt that he didn’t even notice until more half way through our interview.
HOBSON: That was the thing that really got to him? The suicide of his son?
HENRIQUES: It seemed too. I didn’t actually see — I’m often asked if I see remorse in him. And I must confess there’s more denial than remorse. I don’t think he actually understands how much damage he has done, or at least he hasn’t accepted it to himself.
HOBSON: Bernie Madoff’s wife Ruth has not been charged with a crime. There’s been a lot of investigation and still no charge. Why do you think there’s been such vitriol from the public towards Ruth?
HENRIQUES: I’ve given that a lot of thought, Jeremy, because in fact, if you go back through centuries, the criminal is derided and attacked but the family is usually left alone. Ruth remained with Madoff and that seemed to be the triggering event. But from my research, I know that Ruth felt she couldn’t abandon him. They’d been married for fifty years. And she just couldn’t walk away from him. And I think she got punished for that, frankly.
HOBSON: This case was a huge embarrassment for the Federal government and particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission. How could regulators not have figured out what was going on?
HENRIQUES: Well it’s painful to read. It was painful to write. To see all of the missed opportunities. But we must remember what had happened to the American regulatory structure after several decades of deregulation and small budgets. They came tantalizingly, agonizingly close so many times.
HOBSON: There’s been a big overhaul of regulations in this country since the Madoff affair. Do you think that the SEC is in a better position to stop a crime like this in the future?
HENRIQUES: It’s in a better position to manage its resources. It’s a good start. But the ability of regulators to get inside a ponzi scheme and stop it is always going to be limited to how alert those investors are. And so what I hope people will take away from the book is the knowledge and wisdom they need to protect themselves against these very plausible crooks.
HOBSON: Diana Henriques, author of ‘The Wizard of Lies.’ Thank you so much.
HENRIQUES: You’re welcome Jeremy.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.