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The Color of Money

New book chronicles the 'catastrophe' of Bernard Madoff's big con

By Michelle Singletary
May 3, 2009
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Bernard L. Madoff will no doubt be a boon to the book industry. With great speed, publishers will turn out books analyzing Madoff and his methods in conning people and institutions, including a senator, financial companies, universities, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, movie stars, and the charity established by director Steven Spielberg.

In "Catastrophe: The Story of Bernard L. Madoff, The Man Who Swindled the World," Deborah and Gerald Strober write more from the perspective of the unknown individual investors, many who lost their life's savings. It's the billions lost by these poor souls that angers the Strobers.

"It appears now that Bernard Madoff did not distinguish between his wealthy clients and the so-called little people, making him an equal opportunity thief," the couple writes.

The Strobers' book is the May pick for the Color of Money Book Club.

If you haven't taken the time to devour the many news reports on Madoff's dealings, the Strobers' book will catch you up. Its initial printing didn't include the money manager's March sentencing, so get the updated version.

Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 felony charges including securities fraud and investment adviser fraud in what was an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

"Catastrophe" is an intriguing, straightforward account of a man whose deception lasted decades. The Strobers, whose previous books include biographies of Billy Graham and Rudy Giuliani, ask lots of questions they can't answer, given the quick publishing schedule. Instead the book is filled with media reports that are supplemented with more than two-dozen interviews in an attempt to dissect the man behind the con. We learn that Madoff would turn away some investors to give his con the air of exclusivity that in turn heightened his allure to other investors.

"From the vantage points of Manhattan, the Hamptons, and Palm Beach, Madoff observed his wealthy neighbors, joined their exclusive clubs, established their trust, and soon had them literally begging to be given the opportunity to invest," the couple observes.

As the Strobers conclude, it was stunning how little people knew about how Madoff made money for them.

And what a price so many paid. Some of the hardest hit were philanthropic groups. The Strobers spend time discussing the generations of wealth that were wiped out because of Madoff and the impact on victims.

One gem is a letter written by Harry Markopolos, who tried to warn the Securities and Exchange Commission that Madoff was running a scam. The 2005 letter is excruciatingly detailed and complicated and yet I read every word.

You could spend hours on the Internet finding much of what the Strobers present. Or you could save yourself the time and read the Strobers' account of the man who made off with a bundle.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. She can be reached at singletarym@washpost.com.

SOURCE: Bloomberg News