Bernard Madoff, in prison for the biggest pyramid scheme fraud in Wall Street history, says that in reality he made a lot of people rich and that he suffered alone.
In a lengthy telephone interview from prison to New York Magazine, the man widely described in the United States as a monster, says he is misunderstood -- and that some of his biggest victims were themselves to blame.
"All of my friends, all of, most of my clients, the individual clients, are not net losers. I made a lot of money for them. I was making 20 percent returns for them," Madoff, 72, said.
"It was the people who came in very late in the game that, that, that got hurt. So, did I make a lot of money for people? Yeah. I made a lot of money for people."
According to Madoff, whose 150-year sentence is likely to see him die behind bars, nearly all the losses from the collapse of his scheme were only related to fake profits. "I'm confident that when all this is finished, very few people, if any, will lose their principal," he said.
The one-time Wall Street star apparently doesn't really believe he was to blame at all, insisting that rich clients knew something was wrong with the huge returns, yet were too greedy to question seriously the numbers.
"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."
Madoff also apparently expresses little or no sorrow for the thousands of people believed to have been ripped off in his multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, in which he took new investors' capital to pay phony returns to existing clients.
The pain, he suggests, is all his, since he claims to have kept the secret of his complex fraud entirely to himself, not telling even his wife Ruth.
"It was a nightmare for me, yes, of course, only for me," he said. Ruth, he said, "feels sorry for me to a certain extent, you know, because she realizes, you know, I'm not a horrible person."
His two sons Andrew and Mark renounced him after his arrest and Mark committed suicide in New York last year.
The ageing super-fraud apparently called the New York Magazine in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation.
Excerpts from the revealing interview, which apparently consists almost entirely of Madoff speaking, can be heard at http://nymag.com/news/features/berniemadoff-2011-3/.
He called unexpectedly, asking to reverse the phone charges to the reporter.
"I don't have that much money in my commissary account," explained the man who during decades of crime amassed villas, a Manhattan penthouse and yachts.
New York Magazine reported that he sees a prison psychiatrist and that he has been told he is not the sociopath many allege him to be.
"I'm not the kind of person I'm being portrayed as," he told the magazine.
Madoff says that by 2002 he understood he had dug a financial hole that he could never escape, and that keeping his scheme going was his only option. Yet he says that he also tried to persuade clients and small investors to take their money and quit while they still could -- only without ever telling them why.
"They wouldn't take it back," Madoff said, complaining of "abuse" from clients who thought he was unfairly pushing them out of his investment fund, while not realizing the motive for his advice.
As far as he's concerned, there's a much bigger fraudster out there: the Wall Street money making industry and the regulators meant to be enforcing the rules.
"It's unbelievable," he said, "no one has any criminal convictions. The whole new regulatory reform is a joke. The whole government is a Ponzi scheme."
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