The latest entry in my catalogue of media about scams is the new Netflix documentary about Bernie Madoff which we binged last weekend.
If you’re not old enough to remember (lucky you!) Bernie Madoff was a Wall Street financier who was sentenced to more than a century in prison after it was discovered that the investment business that he had founded and ran was just a giant Ponzi scheme.
A Ponzi scheme (named after an Italian businessman who ran a fraud on this basis in the 1920s) is a scheme were early investors are paid dividends using money from new investors. The investors obviously don’t know this – and the schemes can keep going as long as new investors keep bringing in money. In the case of the Madoff scheme, he took in billions of dollars from investors and kept the scheme going for close to 20 years (in its final form at any rate) despite nearly being caught by regulators at various points.
This is a four part Netflix documentary that takes you through Madoff’s entire business career, complete with interviews with people who worked at the firm, investors and people who tried to expose what he was doing. It’s a mix of dramatisation, interviews and archive footage and it has one of the clearest explanations that I’ve seen of exactly how he pulled the scam. It should come with a warning though: at one point it shows the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001, which is not something you see often on TV here in the UK and I find really quite upsetting every time I see it.
Anyway, that aside (and I really don’t think they needed to show it), it’s an excellent documentary about one of the biggest financial scandals in history, but also about how it fits into the wider financial system of the time. Very much worth your time.