February 26, 2021

DealBook: ‘Chasing Madoff’ Documentary Tells of Whistle-Blower’s Quest

“Chasing Madoff,” a documentary opening in theaters on Friday, chronicles Harry M. Markopolos's efforts to expose Bernard L. Madoff's fraud.Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times“Chasing Madoff,” a documentary opening in theaters on Friday, chronicles Harry M. Markopolos’s efforts to expose Bernard L. Madoff’s fraud.

In 2000, Harry M. Markopolos made a presentation to a senior enforcement lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The topic: Bernard L. Madoff Securities, an investment business with remarkably steady returns. He offered possible explanations for the firm’s uncanny success, including an explosive one.

“The entire fund is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme,” wrote Mr. Markopolos, then a Boston money manager, in his submission to the agency.

Eight years later, Mr. Madoff confessed.

Among the more astonishing subplots of the Madoff saga is the tale of Mr. Markopolos’s efforts to expose the fraud and the S.E.C.’s bungled attempts to uncover it.

It is no wonder that Hollywood took an interest in his story. “Chasing Madoff,” a documentary opening in theaters on Friday, chronicles Mr. Markopolos’s quest. The movie, which was produced, written and directed by Jeff Prosserman, is based on the 2010 memoir “No One Would Listen.”

In an interview this week, Mr. Markopolos, 54, who calls himself a whistle-blower specialist, discussed the film and what he was up to these days.

How did this documentary get made?

In the months after Bernie turned himself in, I got 30 movie offers. Half were from screenwriters and movie studios. The other half were from documentary filmmakers. It came down to personal relationships. A producer had grown up with my lawyer, and Jeff Prosserman was his young protégé. Jeff wanted to do the film and contacted the producer. The rest is history.

The film recreates scenes in which you’re carrying guns, checking for bombs under your car and wearing bulletproof vests. You seemed paranoid that Madoff or his people were going to kill you.

Well, it’s not paranoia. Do you do white-collar fraud investigations? I do. Do F.B.I. agents carry guns? They do. Why? Just in case, and that’s why I carry the gun. Bernie was playing a very dangerous game. When I spoke to the F.B.I. agent in charge of the case he told me, “Harry, for that kind of money, so many billions, bad things happen to people, and you’re very lucky.”

What about when you’re lurking in the shadows during an Eliot Spitzer speech at the John F. Kennedy library in Boston and then put on a pair of gloves to hand over a Madoff file to a Spitzer aide?

Yeah, I didn’t want any fingerprints on that one. That was an anonymous submission. I had twins about to be born, so I was afraid. Spitzer was rushing out through the back door to catch a ride to the airport, so I don’t know that he ever received those documents. I talked to Eliot over cocktails a couple weeks ago. He says he didn’t. Together, we could’ve changed history.

Cocktails with Spitzer? Are you two pals?

I don’t know about pals. We met backstage last month at the after party on the Bill Maher show. He said he’d like to get together. I’d love to. As fellow white-collar fraud investigators, we have a lot in common. He is the best crime fighter of our generation and was the last best hope in this case.

What would you say about the state of the S.E.C. today? It’s made headlines again about its document destruction policies.

It’s embarrassing, and the S.E.C. has to stop shooting themselves in the foot at every opportunity. They need to start doing big cases. I think they’re capable of it and proved that with the Goldman Sachs $550 million settlement. They sent hundreds of people away to become certified fraud examiners. So they actually realize that they’re in the fraud-fighting business and need to stop frauds before they blow up, and that’s a sea change for them.

Was there anything that disappointed you about the documentary?

Yes. In the movie, my kid said that the S.E.C. was bad and should go to jail. But they weren’t corrupt. They were systemically incompetent, which is actually far worse.

What’s it feel like being famous for…

The biggest failed investigation in history? It’s tough. No one likes to lose.

So what frauds are you exposing these days?

The ones I can talk about? I’ve uncovered that two custody banks, Bank of New York and State Street, were stealing hundreds of millions each year from pension funds in the currency markets by backdating trades and choosing improper prices. [Bank of New York and State Street have denied these allegations, which are the subject of civil lawsuits filed by a whistle-blower group in several states.]

Have you tried to contact Mr. Madoff since his arrest? As a fraud investigator, isn’t there anything you could learn from him?

I have not bothered to contact Mr. Madoff, nor will I. In his jailhouse interviews, he goes out of the way to say how much he hates me, which is the highest possible praise I can receive as a certified fraud examiner.

How much money have you made from your role in the Madoff scandal?

Oh, I got a huge book advance of $43,600. The book seems to be doing well. It’s in its fourth printing, but I’ve gotten no royalties. I don’t understand the royalty statements.

Maybe you should investigate your publisher.

Yeah, I always wonder about that. The book advance was actually $300,000, but we split it. I had a literary agent, a ghostwriter who helped me, and we split it among the team. It took a year of my life, so how smart was I? You don’t write a book for money. I don’t think that you’re in journalism for the money.

I’m not. What about the documentary?

We got an even bigger sum. I think it was $6,000 that we divided a number of ways. I think we just used it for legal fees for a Hollywood movie that we hope comes out in a few years.

So who would you want to play you?

I wouldn’t get to pick that. I happen to like Christian Bale, but it could be anybody. It doesn’t matter. Pee-wee Herman would be fine.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3e3a1cdaf7401c5a9b84343ed3cbc7ba

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