As the winds of the financial crisis have blown the lid off of one Ponzi scheme after another, we've often asked ourselves: Why? What could have caused these people to become so desperate that they would cheat their friends, family, and co-workers, that they would construct for themselves a life built on complete and utter lies? What kind of sickos are these people, and what made them that way? What horrible trauma did they endure? Marc Dreier, the lawyer who was recently sentenced to prison for committing a $380 million fraud, gave Vanity Fair two moments that he felt were formative to his Ponzi scheme.
One was 9/11:
“I had a very emotional response to that,” he says. “I remember feeling an emptiness I couldn’t shake in the last quarter of ‘01, feeling emotionally drained and looking to find myself.”
The other was a palpable moment of real-estate envy, which led to a moment of self-loathing, which led to a feeling of utter conviction:
It happened one day when he found himself staring at a palatial beachfront home. His own house was inland. He had always wanted one right on the beach. It was at that moment, Dreier says, that he came to two conclusions. He would buy himself a big house on the beach. And he would get the money by dramatically expanding his firm, now renamed Dreier L.L.P. Dreier knows how ridiculous this sounds, that his criminal behavior can be traced to his yearning for a better beach house.
“I wanted to just, well, appease myself,” he says. “Well, not appease myself. Gratify myself I was very, very caught up in seeing the criteria of success in terms of professional and financial achievement, which I think was a big part of the problem. But I thought it would make me happy. And I wanted to be happy again.”
If this is all that tips the scales, shouldn't all New Yorkers be Ponzi-schemers?