“Hello, Madoff” What the Secretary Saw

vanity-fair-june-2009

The June issue of Vanity Fair continues its coverage of Bernie Madoff. This issue centers around Eleanor Squillari, who spent two decades as Madoff’ private secretary.

The article, entitled “Hello, Madoff!,” is accompanied by more than a dozen intimate photos of Madoff and his family from as far back as the 1970s.

According to Eleanor Squillari, Bernie Madoff was a sexist, egomaniacal, short-tempered control freak—yet everybody loved him.

At first, I was not interested in the story. It looked a little sordid for me. Then I saw this quote:

Squillari recalls an unusually prescient conversation she had with Madoff years earlier, after a client’s secretary had been arrested for embezzlement. “You know, [he] has to take some responsibility for this,” Madoff told Squillari. “He should have been keeping an eye on his personal finances. That’s why I’ve always had Ruth watching the books. Nothing gets by Ruth.” Squillari says she was surprised when he added: “Well, you know what happens is, it starts out with you taking a little bit, maybe a few hundred, a few thousand. You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.”

Perhaps the story will give us some insight into what makes a person go bad.

For a preview, there is a video of Vanity Fair’s Mark Seal interviewing Eleanor Squillari: Bernie Madoff’s Secretary Spills His Secrets.

Part I of Vanity Fair’s coverage of Madoff was in the April issue: Madoff’s World.

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3 Responses to “Hello, Madoff” What the Secretary Saw

  1. Brian Gryth May 7, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    Is it really insight? You qoute Ms. Squillari’s recalled conversation in which Madoff states “[w]ell, you know what happens is, it starts out with you taking a little bit, maybe a few hundred, a few thousand. You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.” It is a sad turth, especially in attorney discipline cases where an attorney “borrows” funds from the trust account. I suppose it is insightful, but certainly not unusual or new. Madoff just took it to a whole new level.

    • Doug Cornelius May 7, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

      Brian –

      You are right. That snippet is not insightful. For me, as a compliance person, I have a keen interest in what makes a person cross the line and do the wrong thing.

      I have been working under the assumption that Madoff was at some point legitimate and ended up crossing over the line (WAY, WAY over the line.) What made him cross the line? What made him go back again and again?

      Maybe my assumption is wrong and he started off a thief from day one.

      If we want to prevent another Madoff from happening, we need to find out how he went bad and how he stayed bad for so long.

      • Brian Gryth May 8, 2009 at 6:13 pm #

        Doug, You are probably correct that Madoff did start of as a legitimate investor and at some point went off the rails. Of course, it is hard to say. I worked on the mail fraud defense team during law school that defend a couple of guys that ran a ponzi scheme. They might have gotten away with it had they not gotten conned by a bigger schemer.

        BTW you may be interested in the following This American Life program, http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1291. It might help you think about your how he went bad and how he stayed bad questions.

        Best, Brian