What I Told Madoff Today
My name is Burt Ross and my wife Joan and I lost $5 million because of the criminal acts of Bernard Madoff. Not only have I lost the inheritance of my father, who worked his entire life so that his children and his children’s children could lead a better life, I have lost our retirement accounts and funds in trust for our children.
The fact is, though, we are among the fortunate ones because we still have a roof over our heads and food on our table, unlike so many others who have been forced to sell their homes and to pick up the pieces of their lives.
When he leaves this earth virtually unmourned, may Satan grow a fourth mouth, where Bernard L. Madoff deserves to spend the rest of eternity.
Years ago I attended a Friends secondary school where we were taught that in each person there is an inner light—“that of God in every one.” For the life of me, as hard as I have searched, I cannot find that inner light in Bernard Madoff. What can we possibly say good about Madoff—that he was a philanthropist when the money he gave to charities he stole from the very same charities he ultimately devastated; that he was a good family man when he leaves his grandchildren a name that mortifies them, a name which will live in infamy; that he is genuinely remorseful for his conduct when the statement he read in this very court was totally without emotion, when even after confessing he fought to keep assets away from those he hurt, when we all know his only regret was getting caught? Can we say Madoff was a righteous Jew who served on the boards of Jewish institutions when he sank so low as to steal from Elie Wiesel, as if Wiesel hasn’t already suffered enough in his lifetime—a righteous Jew?—when in reality, nobody has done more to reinforce the ugly stereotype that all we care about is money when the fact is no people on this earth are more charitable? But we will survive. We have survived worse than Madoff.
What Bernard L. Madoff did far transcends the loss of money, it involves his betrayal of the virtues people hold dearest—love, friendship, trust—and all just so he could eat at the finest restaurants, stay at the most luxurious resorts, and travel on yachts and private jets. He has truly earned his reputation for being the most despised person living in America today.
Several hundred years ago, the Italian poet Dante in his The Divine Comedy recognized fraud as the worst of sins, the ultimate evil more than any other act contrary to God’s greatest gift to mankind—love. In fact, he placed the perpetrators of fraud in the lowest depths of hell, even below those who had committed violent acts. And those who betrayed their benefactors were the worst sinners of all, so in the three mouths of Satan struggle Judas for betraying Jesus Christ and Brutus and Cassius for betraying Julius Caesar.
Please allow me to take a liberty now by speaking for many of those victims who because of frailty, privacy, distance, or other reasons are unable to bear witness today. We urge your Honor to commit Madoff to prison for the remainder of his natural life, and when he leaves this earth virtually unmourned, may Satan grow a fourth mouth, where Bernard L. Madoff deserves to spend the rest of eternity. Thank you.
Burt Ross, former mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and former administrator of the New Jersey Energy Office, is a lawyer and real-estate investor. A book The Bribe was written about his exploits with the Mafia.