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Jewish Journal

Daphne Merkin minimizes brother’s Madoff connection

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 24, 2009 | 9:36 pm

Talk about a gross understatement. In fact, I think we could call this omission willfully deceiving. In Sunday’s New York Times, Daphne Merkin wrote an op-ed about Bernard Madoff and his “co-dependent” casualties. She wrote:

Photo
Daphne Merkin

Given the demonization of Mr. Madoff and the intense sympathy for the plight of those smaller investors who trusted him, it is easy to forget that he actually did bring something to the table. Indeed, what is lost amid the fury of some of those who handed their money over to him is that theirs was a voluntary — nay, eager — association. No one was holding a gun to anyone’s head, saying sign up with Mr. Madoff or else.

Far from it: people scrambled to find a home within his financial orbit, auditioning for the role of Madoff client the way you would try out for a place at an Ivy League college, nudging connections to put in a good word, calling in favors to get in on a piece of the Madoff action. (Although those who were duped are referred to in the press as “victims,” it seems to me it would be more accurate to define them as casualties. Victims are specifically sought out; casualties are an indirect consequence of some larger action.)

Fair enough. I’ve written much of the same. But what about Merkin’s brother, the uber-investor who has been identified as one of Madoff’s primary fund feeders? Merkin includes this parenthetical: “(I did not know Mr. Madoff nor did I invest with his firm, but have a sibling who did business with him.)”

Did business. That makes it sound like Madoff and Ezra Merkin met a few times and talked work over lunch. In fact, New York magazine reported that without Ezra Merkin, the name Madoff would have never eclipsed Ponzi:

Ezra took Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities places Bernie couldn’t have dreamed of going by himself. The list of people and institutions that Ezra Merkin put with Bernie Madoff is a kind of Jewish social register. There was Mort Zuckerman, the media and real-estate mogul, and Ira Rennert, chairman of Fifth Avenue Synagogue and owner of a 68-acre oceanfront Hamptons estate. Over 30 charities invested with Ezra, many of them with a Jewish affiliation. Ramaz was in, as was Yeshiva. Not every investor says they knew that Ezra’s fund Ascot was fully invested with Madoff, an assertion that will be at issue in forthcoming lawsuits.

The two sat on the board of Yeshiva University together, and Merkin made up to $35 million a year from the relationship. NYU is suing Merkin, its moneymanager, for the $24 million it says it lost with Madoff.

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