Tag Archives: bank fraud

Bernie Madoff : Scamming of America – The $50 Billion Ponzi Scheme


Forbes:”If indeed, $50 billion was lost, as apparently Madoff claims, it is the largest such fraud in history, and one that might even shame the conman whose name is attached to this brand of deception. In 1920, Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant, began advertising that he could make a 50% return for investors in only 45 days. Incredibly, Ponzi began taking in money from all over New England and New Jersey. By July of 1920, he was making millions as people mortgaged their homes and invested their life savings. As with all frauds, he was discovered to have a jail record and was indicted on 86 counts of fraud. Some tens of millions of dollars were invested with him.”

In the streamlined (if somewhat simplified) opening of Ripped Off: Madoff and the Scamming of America, it is noted that “he puts a face on what we’ve all been feeling.” It’s a succinct and accurate characterization of the man who ran an elaborate, decades-long Ponzi scheme, bilking countless private investors and charities out of an estimated $65 billion dollars. The disclosure of his fraud, in the midst of the worst economic landscape since the Great Depression, grafted the face of a real-life villain onto the greed and excess of the Bush years–it’s hard to personify (or even understand) a credit default swap or a NINA loan, but this was a guy that we could point at and say, “Him! Get him!”

The History Channel’s short documentary examination of the Madoff scandal utilizes interviews with journalists, historians, and victims, in addition to some excellent archival footage (particularly those chilling tapes of Madoff holding court in the late 1990s as a wise elder statesman of the financial world). The special contains some valuable biographical information, not only of Madoff’s humble beginnings as a Queens-born stock broker, but of Carlo Ponzi (the namesake of the Ponzi scheme) and other con artists who operated in Madoff’s style, though perhaps not to his excess.

There’s plenty of solid information to be found here–how the lure of the Madoff investment was its exclusivity (he didn’t let just anyone throw away their money with him) and it’s slow steady performance (one victim notes, quite convincingly, “this was not a get-rich-quick scheme”); the tale of Harry Markopolis, the financial analyst who attempted, for the better part of a decade, to alert the SEC that Madoff was a crook; and the tragic story of Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, the hedge fund operator who responded to the news that his fund’s $1.4 billion investment with Madoff wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on by slashing his wrists in his Manhattan office.

The documentary moves a breakneck pace, a flurry of images and definitions and images and soundbites, though for all of the information it contains, it occasionally sacrifices nuance for the sake of a quick pulse. The misfortune of Ripped Off is that it follows Frontline’s superior examination of the scandal, The Madoff Affair, into the marketplace; that program was simply stronger, with better access to more people on the inside and a more in-depth analysis of the Madoff story. Taken on its own terms, however, Ripped Off is a solid, if less than spectacular, television documentary program.

Largest lawsuit against an auditor goes to court for $5.5 billion

Colonial Bank in Miami Beach, on August 17, 2009, days after it failed. The bank’s fraud with Taylor, Bean & Whitaker is the subject of a lawsuit against its auditor, PricewaterhouseCooper, which failed to catch the fraud for seven years. John VanBeekum Miami Herald

The largest-ever lawsuit against an auditing firm is set to open Monday in a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, pitting Big Four firm PwC against a trustee of the defunct Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corporation.

At stake: $5.5 billion.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by a trust formed following the bankruptcy of Ocala-based Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, which in the early 2000s was one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies. The firm was raided by federal agents in 2009 for its part in a seven-year, multibillion-dollar fraud scheme with Colonial BancGroup.

According to the lawsuit, the fraud went undetected by PwC, the independent public auditor in charge of auditing Colonial, as a result of “gross negligence.”

The $5.5 billion action is one of a wave of suits against major auditing firms, including PwC, in the aftermath of the 2009 banking crisis. Most have alleged faulty work, said Jonathan Perlman, equity partner at Miami-based firm Genovese Joblove & Battista, who has prosecuted several cases against auditing firms. A majority of the cases have settled, including a suit brought against PwC for the alleged negligent auditing of failed brokerage MF Global Holdings Ltd. PwC paid $65 million in a settlement.

Few of the suits have gone to trial, Perlman said.

Still, Steven Thomas, lead trial lawyer for the trust, said he is confident this suit will succeed.

Thomas, who has has obtained several multimillion-dollar settlements and verdicts in cases involving negligent audits, said PwC’s alleged negligence is the “worst” of any case he’s had.

As early as 2002, six top executives at Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, including chairman Lee Farkas, colluded with two executives at Colonial to sign off on mortgage sales that didn’t exist. Colonial financed Taylor, Bean & Whitaker’s mortgages, but in order to bypass the federal lending limit, Colonial started registering loans from the mortgage company as sales instead.

Circumventing the lending limits allowed the fraud to grow exponentially as executives at each company worked to falsify documents and computer entries and shift money between Colonial bank accounts. Both Colonial and Taylor, Bean & Whitaker were raided on Aug. 3, 2009, and later filed for bankruptcy, leading to the sixth-largest banking failure in U.S. history.

Farkas was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. Catherine Kissick at Colonial, who worked most closely with Farkas, received eight years in prison as part of a plea deal.