Mark missed his father too. He’d counted on his father’s love, but now he couldn’t even be sure that was real. “Mark thought that Bernie had lied about business, and so he thought, ‘What else did he lie about? Did he lie about his love for his sons?’ Mark couldn’t get that out of his mind. He thought, ‘Who knows what’s true and what’s not?’ ” said a person close to the family.
“I tried to tell him many times that that was ridiculous,” said a friend. “People tried to reassure him that he was loved.” But he couldn’t make himself believe it. Two years after the crime was revealed, the scandal was again in the press. Mark had tried antidepressants and therapy. On the second anniversary of his father’s arrest, with his wife and their 4-year-old in Disney World with his mother-in-law, Mark hanged himself while his 2-year-old slept in a room nearby. Shortly before, he wrote an e-mail to his lawyer: “No one wants to hear the truth … Please take care of my family.” And another to his wife: “I love you …”
Madoff says he was devastated by the death of his son. “Let me tell you, I cried for well over two weeks. I cried and cried. I didn’t come out of my room. I didn’t speak to anybody, and so on. I have tears in my eyes when I’m talking to you, even. Not a day goes by that I don’t suffer. I may sound okay on the phone. Trust me, I’m not okay. And never will be.”
He was on suicide watch; the guards looked in on him every hour. But they needn’t have worried. “I never thought of taking my life,” he told me. “It’s just not the way I am.” After a few days, Madoff forced himself out of bed and back to his job filling inmates’ commissary orders.
For Madoff, prison offers a measure of relief. A man—and even a monster—who has put his greatest fear in the past is, in some way, a happier man, no matter what else has occurred. “What was before the fear of this”—getting caught—“eventually happening, that was over because it was over,” Madoff said. And with that worry behind him, Madoff moved on to others—“I was always a worrywart,” he said. He worries about his family, of course, and he worries about his victims, though he’s confident they will be okay. Most of his victims, he says, will get a substantial amount of their money back—he’s met with the trustee’s lawyers and tried to help lead them to the money. “It’s 50 cents on the dollar,” he told me. “These people probably would’ve lost all that money in the market. I’m not trying to justify what I did for one minute. I’m not.”
He’s come to terms with his crime, his pariah status. “It is what it is,” said Madoff.
He sees himself at this stage as a kind of truth-teller. He has disdain not only for the industry but for the regulators. “The SEC,” he says, “looks terrible in this thing.” And he doesn’t see himself as the only guilty party on Wall Street. “It’s unbelievable, Goldman … no one has any criminal convictions. The whole new regulatory reform is a joke. The whole government is a Ponzi scheme.”
Madoff had a purpose in reaching out to me. “To set the record straight,” he said. The record, as he sees it, should reflect that he’d risen from modest beginnings to change the way business is done on Wall Street. Even from prison, he is determined to resurrect his legacy, one reason he talks to me.
There is another.
“With both my sons, I could never even explain to them what happened,” Madoff said. “Of course, it’s too late for my son Mark, but my son Andy …” Madoff often thinks of that last day, that meeting in his study when he confessed to them. “I can’t get a message to Andy,” he continues, getting emotional. “The lawyers don’t want that to happen.” I think that Madoff talks to me, in part, as a way of reaching Andrew.
But the world is not as Madoff imagines it from behind prison bars. To a friend, Andrew mocked his father’s thoughts: “Yes, I stole every penny that you had, and you’ve got to dive into a Dumpster to get a meal, but, you know, that’s the past, get over it.”
And so Andrew won’t change his name, but he’s finally free to strike out on his own and create his own identity, an irony not lost on him. He runs a small energy company, Madoff Energy Holdings, and Abel Automatics, a fishing-reel-manufacturing company. But the most fulfilling part of his work life is Black Umbrella, his fiancée’s new venture, which prepares families for disasters—“I’m helping people,” he told a friend. It’s the kind of activity his father had once talked him out of pursuing. Andrew won’t forgive his father. He won’t grant that his father is a good person who made a mistake. Andrew finds that almost comical. At times he wants to tell him that directly. “Am I supposed to forgive you and feel badly that you got trapped into this terrible thing?” he asked the friend rhetorically.
Madoff knows his son’s mind. “At this stage, I just have to give it time,” he said. “I guess I just have to hope.”
In the meantime, Bernie Madoff is still keeping his own moral ledger, adding things up in his own way, telling himself that someday, he’ll come out ahead.