Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.
Thank you very much;
you're only a step away from
downloading your reports.

Spilling the Beans on Bernie


When Madoff told outside fundraisers to hide the facts, they did.

Editor's Note: Allan Dodds Frank is an Emmy and Gerald Loeb Award winner for his financial investigative reporting. Currently President of the Overseas Press Club of America, he has covered business as a television and radio correspondent for Bloomberg, CNN, ABC News and as a senior editor for Forbes.

Now the pieces are falling together about how Bernard Madoff's hid his "investment advisory service" -- I mean Ponzi scheme -- from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The circle around Madoff is being squared by some principals who detail in 2 key stories how Bernie instructed them as he orchestrated his cover-up for 4 decades.

First, we have Madoff's longtime secretary Eleanor Squillari spilling her guts in a paid interview with Vanity Fair this week. Second, and more important, in a one-hour Frontline documentary on PBS, also airing next week, 2 people who funneled hundreds of millions to Madoff attempt to defend themselves. Watch as they portray themselves as dummies who never asked Madoff any questions as he made them multimillionaires.

Here's Martin Smith of Frontline, asking my favorite -- Michael Bienes, a rough-hewn certified public accountant -- how he and his partner Frank Avellino could have believed Madoff's investment claims.

"What made you think that he could return 20 percent? " says Smith.

Bienes: "I don't know. How do I know? How do [you] split an atom? I know that you can split them; I don't know how you do it. How does an airplane fly? I don't ask."

Smith: "Did you ask him?"

Bienes: "Never. Why would I ask him? I wouldn't understand it if he explained it. Something with arbitrage between bonds and stocks and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. "

Bienes and his partner Frank Avellino got in on the ground floor in the 1960s , as junior partners of Saul Alpern, the accountant father of Bernie's high-school sweetheart and wife, Ruth. Saul was Bernie's first recruiter of investors.

Bienes: "Well, Saul (Alpern) -- his father-in-law had been doing it, and then he gave Frank a piece. And he -- I got a piece, when I became partner… We were only taking a small clip off the top. It's all it was. Couldn't take more, we thought that was the rule. And we never were pigs. That is the one thing that kept us going. We were never pigs. We were never pigs."

Madoff promised a 20% return, so Avellino and Bines issued notes promising investors guaranteed returns of anywhere from 15% to 18%, then pocketed the difference as they handed the accounts to Madoff.

Bienes told Frontline it was: "Easy. Easy-peasy. Like a money machine. I - I always said I never lifted any heavy weights. People have said to me, even recently, 'Oh, you must have worked very hard.' I said, "No, I didn't." Oh, come on. No I didn't. I never worked hard. We were like an airplane -- an airplane -- you know, flies itself. "

When the SEC shut down Avellino & Bienes in 1992 as unregistered investment advisors, the firm -- which had moved in part to Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- had 3,200 clients and $441 million, all invested with Madoff. With Madoff's help, A&B returned all the money to investors, and the SEC closed the case without investigating Madoff.

Bienes says Bernie had ordered his firm not to register with the SEC, a move that might have avoided the bust - but would have brought Madoff's hidden role to light.

"We had doubts. And we passed them on to Bernie in meetings. And he said, 'Listen to me. Okay? I know the biggest lawyers on Wall Street. And I've told them about this, and they say it's okay. You're just -- guys who work for my father-in-law. You -- you're an -- you're an -- you're a client of my firm. That's all you are."

Smith: "So you did have doubts? You wondered if you should be licensed with the SEC?"

Bienes: "I like to be licensed. I was a licensed CPA."

Smith: "So why didn't you just get yourself licenses?"

Bienes: "Because you just can't do that, because Bernie didn't want us to."

Smith: "So Bernie is callin' the shots here?"

Bienes: "Oh, of course he is. Always was. I was always -- we were always captive to him. He owned us."
< Previous
No positions in stocks mentioned.
The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Videos