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Jewish Journal

‘The Talented Mr. Madoff’

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 2, 2009 | 4:17 pm

I made the mistake in high school of taking a date to see “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” If you’ve seen the film, you know it isn’t exactly “Serendipity.” Worse yet, we got there just before showtime and had to sit in the front section—for two and a half hours. And I wear glasses, which meant I had to cock my neck back even farther. All that to say my impression of Mr. Ripley was that he was a bad dude, though I didn’t really need the movie-going experience to tell me that; it could have been gleaned from the scene in which he bludgeons Jude Law with an oar.

Clearly Bernard Madoff has done broader damage. But was he as troubled a villain? In its continuing coverage of the Bernard Madoff investment scandal, The New York Times published a lengthy profile last Sunday of “The Talented Mr. Madoff.”  Here’s a bit of the opening:

While he managed billions of dollars for individuals and foundations, he shunned one-on-one meetings with most of his investors, wrapping himself in an Oz-like aura, making him even more desirable to those seeking access.

So who was the real Bernie Madoff? And what could have driven him to choreograph a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, to which he is said to have confessed?

An easy answer is that Mr. Madoff was a charlatan of epic proportions, a greedy manipulator so hungry to accumulate wealth that he did not care whom he hurt to get what he wanted.

But some analysts say that a more complex and layered observation of his actions involves linking the world of white-collar finance to the world of serial criminals.

They wonder whether good old Bernie Madoff might have stolen simply for the fun of it, exploiting every relationship in his life for decades while studiously manipulating financial regulators.

“Some of the characteristics you see in psychopaths are lying, manipulation, the ability to deceive, feelings of grandiosity and callousness toward their victims,” says Gregg O. McCrary, a former special agent with the F.B.I. who spent years constructing criminal behavioral profiles.

Mr. McCrary cautions that he has never met Mr. Madoff, so he can’t make a diagnosis, but he says Mr. Madoff appears to share many of the destructive traits typically seen in a psychopath. That is why, he says, so many who came into contact with Mr. Madoff have been left reeling and in confusion about his motives.

“People like him become sort of like chameleons. They are very good at impression management,” Mr. McCrary says. “They manage the impression you receive of them. They know what people want, and they give it to them.”

As investigators plow through decades of documents, trying to decipher whether Mr. Madoff was engaged in anything other than an elaborate financial ruse, his friends remain dumbfounded — and feel deeply violated.

“He was a hero to us. The head of Nasdaq. We were proud of everything he had accomplished,” says Diana Goldberg, who once shared the 27-minute train ride with Mr. Madoff from their homes in Laurelton, Queens, to classes at Far Rockaway High School. “Now, the hero has vanished.”

Read the rest here.

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