Friday, January 23, 2009


Bernard Madoff, "Bernie" to his Wall Street pals and deep-pocketed investors, launched his financial career with $5,000 earned as a Far Rockaway lifeguard.

That was nearly a half-century ago. Today, investors with Madoff's firm are drowning after the former Nasdaq chairman admitted fleecing his customers of $50 billion.

Madoff, 70, was known as a quirky figure inside his company offices at Manhattan's Lipstick Building. Still, he was respected for his uncanny - and apparently illegal - ability to generate cash for his clients.

The Hennessee Group, which tracks investment performance, says Madoff's firm suffered just five down months in 13 years between 1993-2007.

"He was God to people," said Charles Gradante, one of Hennessee's co-founders.

The relentless success raised hackles and suspicions among Madoff's critics. It also allowed Madoff to own homes in Manhattan, France and Palm Beach, Fla., along with a yacht.

The self-made Wall Street heavyweight recruited many of his clients at New York and Florida country clubs, including the Palm Beach Country Club.

His big-bucks roster of clients boasted Sterling Equities Inc., the investment firm led by Mets owner Fred Wilpon.

The investor with a passing resemblance to actor Robert Loggia was a donor to the Democratic Party and Jewish organizations, including Yeshiva University.

The school announced Friday Madoff had cut all ties with Yeshiva, resigning as a member of its board of trustees.

While other brokerage firms were bought out by larger operations, Madoff Investment Securities LLC remained a family business - right to the end.

His sons, Andrew and Mark, turned Madoff in Wednesday night after the father confessed his economic sins, said Martin Flumbenbaum, the brothers' lawyer.

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