Monday, November 11, 2019

No. 340: The Markopolos Book about the Madoff Ponzi Scheme

In No. 329 (August 28, 2019), I wrote about a whistleblower report by Harry M. Markopolos alleging that General Electric Company (GE) is a "Bigger fraud than Enron" and is "headed toward bankruptcy." One part of the report relates to GE's accounting for its long-term care (LTC) insurance legacy problem, a subject that has been of great interest to me for a long time.

In that post I mentioned a 2010 book entitled No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller, a personal account by Markopolos of his efforts to expose the massive Ponzi scheme Bernard Madoff operated for many years. When I wrote that post, I had not read the Markopolos book. I have now read it, and it is excellent.

The Markopolos Book
The 354-page Markopolos book consists of nine chapters following the front matter, and also includes an epilogue, three appendixes, a note on sources, acknowledgments, biographical information about the author, and an index. The entire book is a good read, but the most interesting section begins with Chapter 7 entitled "More Red Flags Than the Soviet Union" and ends with the collapse of Madoff's scheme. The first two paragraphs of Chapter 1 illustrate the author's writing style:
On the morning of December 11, 2008, a New York real estate developer on a JetBlue flight from New York to Los Angeles was watching CNBC on the small back-seat television. A crawl across the bottom of the screen reported that Bernard Madoff, a legendary Wall Street figure and the former chairman of NASDAQ had been arrested for running the largest Ponzi scheme in history. The developer sat silently for several seconds, absorbing that news. No, that couldn't be right, he thought, but the message streamed across the screen again. Turning to his wife, he said that he knew that she wasn't going to believe what he was about to tell her, but apparently Bernie Madoff was a crook and the millions of dollars that they had invested with him were lost. He was right—she didn't believe him. Instead, she waved off the thought. "That's not possible," she said, and returned to the magazine she was reading.
The stunned developer stood up and walked to the rear of the plane, where the flight attendants had gathered in the galley. "Excuse me," he said politely, "but I'm going to be leaving now. So would you please open the door for me? And don't worry—I won't need a parachute."
The Report of the SEC OIG
On December 11, 2008, Madoff confessed and was arrested. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged him with securities fraud for a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme he had perpetrated on clients of his firm, and the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York indicted him on criminal charges.

On December 18, 2008, the SEC Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a document preservation notice to the entire SEC. On March 12, 2009, Madoff pled guilty to all charges. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to serve 150 years in prison.

On August 31, 2009, H. David Kotz, the inspector general of the SEC, issued a major report. The complimentary package offered at the end of this post includes the entire public version of the report. Here is the first paragraph in the concluding section of the report:
The OIG investigation found that the SEC received numerous substantive complaints since 1992 that raised significant red flags concerning Madoff's hedge fund operations and should have led to questions about whether Madoff was actually engaged in trading and should have led to a thorough examination and/or investigation of the possibility that Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. However, the OIG found that although the SEC conducted five examinations and investigations of Madoff based upon these substantive complaints, they never took the necessary and basic steps to determine if Madoff was misrepresenting his trading. We also found that had these efforts been made with appropriate follow-up, the SEC could have uncovered the Ponzi scheme well before Madoff confessed.
The Recent GE 10-Q Report
On October 30, 2019, GE filed its 10-Q report for the quarter ended September 30, 2019. The report contains information about GE's legacy LTC insurance business. The information is on pages 27-31 and 65-66 of the report. Those pages are in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

General Observations
In the above mentioned No. 329, I expressed the opinion that the ad hominem attack against Markopolos in GE's initial response to the release of the Markopolos report was unfortunate. The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "ad hominem" as "marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made." After reading the Markopolos book, I feel more strongly about GE's initial response to the Markopolos report.

Available Material
In the above mentioned No. 329, I offered a complimentary 20-page package containing some information about the Markopolos report on GE. That package is still available.

Now I offer a complimentary 484-page PDF consisting of excerpts from GE's recent 10-Q report (7 pages) and the full 2009 SEC OIG report on Madoff (477 pages). Email and ask for the November 2019 package about the 2010 Markopolos book.