It’s fair to say that the incompetence and fecklessness of the SEC in failing to catch Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme (merely “alleged” no more!) has already been pretty well established — by this guy, among others.
But if anything, Madoff’s courtroom confession delivered yesterday only makes the extent of the SEC’s screwup even more startlingly clear.
Here’s what Madoff said:
To conceal my fraud, I misrepresented to clients, employees and others, that I purchased securities for clients in overseas markets. Indeed, when the United States Securities and Exchange Commission asked me to testify as part of an investigation they were conducting about my investment advisory business, I knowingly gave false testimony under oath to the staff of the SEC on May 19, 2006 that I executed trades of common stock on behalf of my investment advisory clients and that I purchased and sold the equities that were part of my investment strategy in European markets. In that session with the SEC, which took place here in Manhattan, New York, I also knowingly gave false testimony under oath that I had executed options contracts on behalf of my investment advisory clients and that my firm had custody of the assets managed on behalf of my investment advisory clients.
And here’s how the SEC — in a memo that recommended closing that inquiry, having found only minor violations — what appears to be that same piece of testimony:
[I]n the course of a preliminary inquiry into [Markopolos’ allegations that Madoff’s hedge fund profits were the result of fraud], the staff learned that during a recent examination of BLM by NERO’s broker-dealer examination staff, Bernard Madoff, the sole owner of BLM, did not fully disclose to the examination staff either the nature of the trading conducted in the hedge fund accounts or the number of such accounts at BLM.
But of course, it wasn’t that he didn’t fully disclose the trading information. It’s that he wasn’t even making any trades, and had directed his staff to create false tickets to fool investors. Presumably, that deception could have been detected had the SEC simply bothered to try to match up those trade with the supposed counter-parties — who didn’t exist.
The SEC had another chance to catch that scheme when Madoff filed reports with the agency that year. Madoff said yesterday:
Another way that I concealed my fraud was through the filing of false and misleading certified audit reports and financial statements with the SEC. I knew that these audit reports and financial statements were false and that they would also be sent to clients. These reports, which were prepared here in the Southern District of New York, among things, falsely reflected my firm’s liabilities as a result of my intentional failure to purchase securities on behalf of my advisory clients.
“Were there sufficient red flags for SEC to have caught this?” asked Ross Albert, a former SEC senior special counsel, asked in an interview with TPMmuckraker last December. “Absolutely, without a doubt.”
Since then, that conclusion has become only more indisputable. And the case for those additional SEC funds has grown only stronger.