The World’s Biggest Ever Heist

I still can’t quite get my head around the enormity of the numbers in the Madoff case. For one thing,

Madoff’s investment advisory business served between 11 and 25 clients and had a total of about $17.1 billion in assets under management.

Now that’s what I call high net worth individuals! And then you read the indictment, and you think you know what to expect, until:

On Dec. 10, 2008, Madoff informed the Senior Employees, in substance, that his investment advisory business was a fraud. Madoff stated that he was "finished," that he had "absolutely nothing," that "it’s all just one big lie," and that it was "basically, a giant Ponzi scheme. Madoff stated that the business was insolvent, and that it had been for years. Madoff also stated that he estimated the losses from this fraud to be at least approximately $50 billion.

Yep, $50 billion. In other words, that $17.1 billion is only the beginning: presumably Madoff’s clients had invested much more than that, and Madoff was sending statements to them, on the one hand, while reporting different numbers to the SEC, on the other — none of which were true.

If the total losses are really $50 billion, that means that the average loss to Madoff’s clients is a minimum of $2 billion, and perhaps as much as $4.5 billion. After all, in a Ponzi scheme, everybody comes out fine, except the last people out: the 11 to 25 clients still with Madoff to this day.

The one thing this does do is get me a little bit more comfortable with Jeffrey Epstein’s business plan of managing billionaires’ money. Clearly there are actually quite a lot of people with a few billion dollars to invest and who feel perfectly comfortable entrusting it to individuals like Madoff and Epstein. Who knew?

Right now, there are a handful people whose world has suddenly been turned upside-down: who have, overnight, suddenly lost billions of dollars of dynastic wealth to a Wall Street con man. I’m sure that their names will appear sooner or later. But there really is no precedent that I can think of: when has one man ever managed to steal $50 billion dollars? If the $100 million Harry Winston heist in Paris was the "steal of the century", what’s this?.

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