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‘Chasing Madoff’: Whistleblower Harry Markopolos “Had a Lot to Fear”

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief
Daily Ticker

Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years for running the biggest Ponzi scheme in modern history but the odyssey continues for whistleblower Harry Markopolos.

Despite the accolades and newfound fame, Markopolos doesn't consider himself a great success.

"The financial collapse of 2008 stopped Madoff," he says. "Nothing we did stopped him. For that I feel horrible."

Indeed, time hasn't healed the wounds Markopolos suffered during the 10 years of trying get the SEC, investors, journalists or anyone else to believe Madoff was a fraud.

"We tried to stop Madoff but couldn't get anyone to listen to us," he says. "They wouldn't look at the proof. They just looked at Bernie's reputation — it was stellar, it was sterling. He was a titan of Wall Street so they doubted us."

A new docu-drama, "Chasing Madoff" tells the story of Markopolos and his team of investigators. The film opened in select cities this weekend and is due for wider release on Sept. 2.

Markopolos makes a compelling protagonist, which I hope comes across in the accompanying interview. He might not consider himself a hero but clearly is driven by a sense of duty and the struggle of right vs. wrong.

He also has a clear distaste for Madoff, who he calls a "pathological liar" and not unlike a Mafia chief. Indeed, the film often compares Madoff with Al Capone, an analogy Markopolos says is accurate.

"Bernie was a modern day organized criminal [but] instead of using Tommy guns he used pens and a set of golf clubs," he says. "[Madoff] had vast array of people working for him as feeder funds; they were just preying on other people."

Fear & Loathing

As he began to discover the extent of Madoff's empire, Markopolos came to fear for his life and his family's safety. The film shows him talking about the "battle plan" he had with his wife, who was instructed to shoot anyone coming up the stairs other than Markopolos.

It sounds a bit paranoid but "Bernie was stealing from the Russians and Columbians; those two groups have a unique way of handling their manager termination," Markopolos quips. "If Bernie was discovered stealing from them — he had a lot of risk on the table. I had a lot to fear. The FBI told me: With that kind of money, bad things happen."

Fortunately, nothing "bad" happened to Markopolos or his family. But 1000s of Madoff investors lost their life savings and Markopolos is clearly sympathetic to their plight and seemingly unsympathetic to Madoff, whose oldest son committed suicide last December.

With Madoff in jail for life, Markopolos is continuing to investigate financial frauds, including an alleged scheme by banks to steal money from pension funds in foreign exchange transactions. (See: Madoff Whistleblower: Big Banks Are Ripping Off Pension Funds)

"It's not over," Markopolos says. "Someone has to go forward. If people shirk their duty as citizens then society falls apart. I'm proud to say four of us stepped forward we may have had no effect on ultimate resolution of the [Madoff] case, but at least we tried."

Sounds like a hero to me.

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @atask or email him at altask@yahoo.com