Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Madoff "Millions to Billions" & "Catch Me If You Cancer" Recap (A Closed Fund) [Contributor: Megan Mann]

"Millions to Billions" & "Catch Me If You Cancer"
Original Airdate: February 3, 2016

“It’s a closed fund.” 

It’s the famous pitch — the pitch that lures them in. Offer them what they can’t have and the money flows forth like a river. That was what Bernie Madoff was good at. He was good at stealing people’s money from right under their nose without them even realizing it. Why? Because the first step in blindly robbing anyone is to gain their trust. If you have their trust, you have their money. If you have their money, what aren’t you capable of?

In the first hour of ABC’s two-night Madoff special, we see Bernie, played astonishingly well by Richard Dreyfuss, give his famous pitch. We see how a little bit of charm and a trusting anecdote can force even the stingiest people to hand over their life’s savings. He knew exactly what to say, when to say it and how to say it. It was, though deplorable in its outcome, something truly magical come to life.

At the top of the hour, we see Bernie run into a problem. An account he had stolen over $400 million dollars from wanted to be emptied. What does he do? Who will you steal from in order to cover your tracks? He asks to set up a meeting to see what he can do.

What Bernie did was take a financial firm that was legitimate and use it as a cover to steal millions —billions — of dollars from financial heavy-hitters and pocket the money himself. Of course, it had to be legitimate as his children, nieces, and nephews worked for him. If they were to find out that at least a portion of the business wasn’t legitimate, there would be no business. The key is to have a legitimate business that helps your side business.

Before his meeting, he takes himself down from floor 19 to floor 17. The only way you were able to get to this floor was if you were granted a special key card. While the 19th floor was an actual business, the 17th floor was full of those helping Madoff in his Ponzi scheme. It was here that they discussed how they would recoup funds in the event that a client decided to demand their money back, they would see just how much they were making and it was here that Frank DiPascali ran everything illegal.

Once the situation is halted after Madoff makes it clear that they were making a big mistake, he decides to promote Frank, rather than his son Mark, to VP. Frank doesn’t like this and finds himself on the 17th floor — a place where he doesn’t belong. If he notices anything wrong, he doesn’t say anything, but he’s not happy and this isn’t the end of it. That’s for sure.

For the rest of the hour, we see Madoff continue his schmooze cruise through New York’s upper echelon and he snags a major account with Blake North from Florida. Once you get them to trust you, Bernie claims, you make it seem like they’re pulling one over on you. This is what hooks North, and it’s that deal that starts bringing in more heavy-hitters.

Business is booming, and when business is booming, promotions start to roll in. As he walks into his office, he’s greeted by a chorus of “SURPRISE!” and a banner that says he’s now the chairman of NASDAQ. Talk about a pretty big deal. All of this because he took a chance selling penny stocks back in the day and learned how easy it was to swindle people then. Of course, he was swindling people on a much larger scale now.

Which causes some talk. If you have a business model that seems to be working for you and only you, it’s going to cause others to want to know what they’re missing. They’re going to want to know how you’re doing it. They’ll want to know how you’re flush with cash and they’re not. It’ll force them to ask their numbers guy how you’re doing it and how they can, too. Only once the numbers guy starts putting in the data and he realizes that what you're doing is not possible, it’s the numbers guy that figures out that you’re a fraud.

Hour two opens with that same numbers guy, Harry Markopolos, meeting with a member of the SEC in a Boston bar. He asks his friend if he’s heard of Bernie Madoff, his friend saying that of course he had. Markopolos quickly shuts down the praise of Madoff and says that it’s a fraud, the whole setup is a sham; it's a Ponzi scheme. His friend couldn’t be more confused. “The man who sat as chairman of NASDAQ for the last three years?” Markopolos isn’t swayed and wants a meeting with his boss. It’s time to bring Bernie Madoff down.

And the unsettlements continue. His son, Mark, is still angry with his father over his lack of promotion and his father’s claims that they’re just a “small family business” when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Madoff overhears them and reminds them that they should be careful. Back at his office, Bernie interviews a woman for a secretary position and after a general conversation, he says, “If I hire you, you are loyal to me, not the company. To me. Do you understand?” Sketchy.

Harry finally gets his meeting with the head of the SEC, but it doesn’t exactly go well. However, that doesn’t stop him. He’s run more numbers and wants another chance to prove Madoff’s a fraud. Back at the investment firm, his new secretary, Eleanor, is entrusted with his most precious documents. Well, that and the fact that he’s now cheating on his wife. A bit of a problem when Ruth shows up later that day looking for him.

Markopolos won’t quit. He leaves the president of the SEC voicemail after voicemail detailing every single red flag when it comes to Madoff’s business. Is he purposely not taking on Bernie because he’s such a heavy-hitter or is he just lazy? His phone rings, and it’s a financial news reporter asking about his current findings. Harry says that if he knew what he had found on Madoff, there’s no way that he would print it because who would be crazy enough to take him on and then down? “Try me.”

Bernie’s son Mark gives a speech to everyone on the 19th floor, the legit floor, about the articles and how it’s clear that this is just their competitors trying to take him down. Of course, they called Bernie for fact checking and quotes and he told them nothing but lies. Bernie goes downstairs to talk to Frank and Frank wonders why Mark is doing the damage control. “He’s great at it, and he doesn’t know anything.” That’s a good trick to have in your arsenal when you want to avoid another SEC investigation.

Ruth tells Bernie that his sister called her to talk about the article. He asks what was said and she said that she knew very little about how it all goes, so she’s not the person to talk to about it. He asks if that’s really what she said and she told him no, that if they were so unsure about how he handled their money that they were free to take their money out of the fund and take it elsewhere, to somewhere that won’t make them nearly as rich as her husband had. It’s clear that within that response, Bernie has gone from “Oh, god. They’ll try to take their money back, the money I’ve taken from them,” to “Oh, thank god. They’ll never do that after she reminded them how ‘rich’ I’ve made them.”

Mr. North comes back after the article to make sure that everything is legit. Of course they understand that a few fickle clients can wag their tongues and competitors can be tough, but they want to do their due diligence and have Bernie lay it all out for them. Enter Frank, the crook of the 17th floor. It’s a big pack of lies that he’s feeding them with the help of the secretary downstairs. He shows them figures from other countries that aren’t real to quell their curiosity, but when they ask about the DTCC, the place with stocks that they aren’t actually getting, there’s a tense moment before Frank says, “Sure, give me a minute to bring that up.” He brings it up and when they leave, Frank says, “My DTCC portal looks more real than the real one!” And the two laugh. Scummy.

Harry meets with his friend again to find out that the SEC just doesn’t have the time to go after Madoff because they don’t find it actionable. Madoff is dealing in billions of dollars and on paper, it’s evident that he’s a fraud, but the SEC still doesn’t think he’s worth going after? Suspect. He needs to make it easier to understand, his friend says. Harry’s now on a mission and if it needs to be broken down further, he will. He heads to the head of the SEC in DC and is denied his meeting at the same time that Frank’s phone rings in New York with Bernie telling him they’re getting audited. Dun-dun-dun!

“When the SEC audits you, you don’t go to them. They come to you.” Three members of the SEC come to the firm to look into the accounts and make sure everything is top notch. His plan is to keep them comfortable, to keep them isolated and let Frank inundate them with fake paperwork. It’s key to keep them distracted. They’re working double-time down on the 19th floor to make it look like the fake paperwork is legit. Of course, they don’t find anything, but they tell him that in a few days, their boss will be in touch for an interview. They ask him a whole lot of questions he’s not prepared to answer. He realizes this is more than just a formality. Just as he’s in the clear, they ask him for his DTC number, something he certainly does not have. But he gives them a number instead. “With that number, I gave them the doomsday code. One call and I’m dead.”

“Forty years of keeping the music playing, and on Monday morning, the SEC would call the DTC.” A week later and he’s still waiting for the axe to fall. Were they ever going to bring him in for his fraud? His son Mark comes in to tell him that he’s going to propose to his girlfriend but uses the moment to also discuss business. He wants to change the name of the company to include everyone and stop making it the Bernie show. He reminds him that in time, Mark will understand all that he’s done for them and for the company as images of jail cells flash through his head.

His son Andy steps out of the shower and finds a lump on his back. It turns out he, too, has cancer. This comes after Bernie’s brother and his son have both suffered from cancer. It’s the Madoff family curse. He’s got a 50/50 chance as he caught it so early, but the images of the SEC still flood Bernie’s mind. Bernie and Ruth fight in the car over Ruth not being bubbly enough to suit Bernie’s needs at a wedding they were attending of their niece. He felt it was going to be awkward enough with all of the tension within his family, but his niece was also marrying one of the very SEC lawyers that had been investigating the firm.

“And that’s when it hit me. This is the moment the SEC had waited for. The most dramatic and humiliating moment they could choose to take me down: at my own niece’s wedding.” He walks out and an SEC lawyer follows him out. He asks how Bernie is, extremely cryptically, but Bernie shakes it off. He says he’s going to find his wife, unless the lawyer has something else to say to him. “Actually, I do.” The same images of jail cells and beige jump suits flit through his mind, with him facing down the cold metal bars as the last thing we see.

Is this it for Bernie Madoff? Is this the time when he finally gets caught?


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