10.31.11

Too Little Too Late, Madoffs

Ruth and Andrew Madoff showed little compassion for Bernie Madoff’s victims on 60 Minutes, using the interview to curry sympathy for themselves and promote a new book about the family, says Michael Daly. Plus, watch the 7 best moments from the interview.

Ruth Madoff and her surviving son, Andrew, went on 60 Minutes and failed to say what they should have said more than 600,000 minutes ago.

What they should have said after Bernie Madoff’s guilt became incontestable was that they felt terrible for his many victims and would make every effort to return every possible cent of the stolen billions.

When they finally broke their public silence nearly three years after the arrest, they said precious little about the victims, but spoke with great sympathy of themselves. They told us how hard all of this has been for them, and insisted they were blameless and knew nothing of Bernie Madoff’s crimes.

“From the very beginning of this whole episode, I‘ve had absolutely nothing to hide,” Andrew Madoff told 60 Minutes. “And I’ve been eager, I would say almost desperate to speak out publicly and tell people that I’m absolutely not involved.”

In truth, there was never anything to stop him from speaking out. He is doing so now to promote a book, Truth and Consequences, shepherded by his fiancée, Catherine Hooper. The book was to have hit the bookstores in November, but the date was moved up—because Stephanie Madoff Mack, the wife of the elder son, Mark, has just released a book of her own. The End of Normal details her husband’s suicide by dog leash and suggests Andrew sought to stop her from writing a book without telling her he was doing one of his own.

The new release date for Truth and Consequences is Oct. 31, Halloween, appropriate for a macabre masquerade that begins with a press release. The book’s publicist suggests that the Madoff sons suffered an injustice when the world failed to applaud their heroism for turning their father in to the FBI just ahead of when he would have been caught anyway.

bernie and ruth madoff
GI / BM / Getty Images

“Instead of being hailed as heroes, the brothers were quickly vilified, along with their mother, as knowing accomplices in their father’s scheme,” the press release laments, going on to announce, “Now for the first time, with candor and courage, Ruth, Andrew, and Andrew’s fiancée, Catherine Hooper, tell their harrowing story.”

So, along with the heroism of avoiding blame yourself by turning in your dad, there is the courage of releasing a book whose profits will go to the fiancée, perhaps in an effort to avoid the bankruptcy trustee who is seeking to secure restitution for the victims.

Ruth and the boys may not have been accomplices, but they certainly were beneficiaries. Ruth was forced to relinquish all her identifiable wealth save for $2.5 million, which she tells 60 Minutes is “certainly enough for me.” Mark was still trying to cling to more than $60 million sought by the trustee when he took his life. Andrew continues to fight to hang onto a similar sum, which includes $17.1 million from a magical investment account in which he deposited only $912,000. There also was $11,285,000 in real-estate “loans” for which he apparently never made any payments. Then there were hundreds of thousands for a boat and personal credit-card expenses.

Video: Madoffs Tell All

The candor and the courage hailed by the publisher’s press release took a stumble when 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer asked Andrew, “How much are you worth as we speak?”

“Well, I was fortunate over the years—running the business that Mark and I ran—that generated many millions of dollars and profits and enabled—my brother and I both—to live a comfortable lifestyle,” Andrew replied.

“You haven’t answered the question,” Safer noted.

Andrew said that his life is “an open book” and that “the details of my financial past have been laid bare completely in the lawsuit against me.”

Safer could have pointed out that Andrew had still not answered the question. He instead simply asked if Andrew feared “ending up broke.” Andrew said it was “a very real possibility, but I am prepared to start over again and build myself back up.”

Andrew and his ill-fated brother missed a chance at redemption that would have been far more cleansing than turning in their dad if they had decided early on just to start over. They could have announced that they could not in good conscience keep stolen money even if they had not known it was stolen. They would have made themselves broke, but on the way to healing if they had then voluntarily turned over the millions to the victims.

Instead, Mark ended up hanging himself with the family Labradoodle’s leash while his 2-year-old son slept a few feet away, a suicide now recounted in his widow’s book. And Andrew will likely end up having to relinquish much of his fortune to the trustee anyway. He and his fiancée may need the proceeds she receives for this second Madoff family book.

Andrew certainly pushed the book project hard, even pressuring his reluctant mother into participating. She told 60 Minutes that she cooperated with the book and was doing the interview because she hoped to reestablish a relationship with her surviving son.

“[Andrew] and Catherine wanted to write this book—they thought it would be good if I was part of it,” Ruth said. “And I agreed because I wanted to reconcile.”

The interview and rest of the pre-publication promotion were macabre enough to make it the perfect book for Halloween.

And she was desperate to reconnect because she feared that the rupture with her sons over her failure to break ties with her husband had been a factor in Mark’s suicide. She told Safer that she would wish “until my dying day” that she had ceded to Mark’s desire that she renounce all contact with Bernie.

“I don’t know if it would have made a difference or not,” she said.  “I don’t know if it would have mattered. It’s the most awful thing that could have happened to anybody. Suicide of a child.”

Only a Bernie Madoff could have failed to feel sympathy while watching her. She seemed less genuine when she described her own supposed suicide attempt with Bernie, saying it was on Christmas Eve and she could not remember whose idea it was or exactly what kind of pills she took, though she thought it was Ambien, but was not sure and could not recall how many, only that her husband took more.

“It was very impulsive,” she told 60 Minutes.

Not so impulsive that she and Bernie failed to take the time to select some of her jewelry, place it in a large envelope, and arrange for it to be delivered to Andrew’s apartment—not a simple proposition when there was a court order prohibiting them from transferring any property.

“I’m glad we woke up,” Ruth said of their purported effort to end it all.

The other book, by the in-law, Stephanie, mentions a similar envelope arriving at Mark’s apartment, addressed in Ruth’s handwriting with no return address. This one contained a number of Bernie’s hyper-expensive watches, and what Stephanie describes as “a massive rope of diamonds … an enormous emerald ring … hideous mink mittens.”

Investigators have suggested the envelopes were an effort to circumvent the court order, but Ruth described the items to 60 Minutes as “lovely antique things” she thought her sons and grandchildren might want. She told Safer she and Bernie had been driven to this supposed suicide attempt by “terrible phone calls, hate mail,” as if this were terribly unfair treatment, considering all her husband did was steal more than every thief in the history of New York City combined and ruin thousands of lives.

“It was so horrendous,” Ruth told 60 Minutes.

She remembers the mail and phone calls, though she and Bernie almost certainly were aware that just the day before, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet had taken pills and slashed his wrists in his office not a dozen blocks from the Madoff penthouse. The 65-year-old French banker had lost $1.4 billion of his clients’ money that he had entrusted to Bernie. He did not wake up.

Whatever is actually in Truth and Consequences, the 60 Minutes interview and the rest of the pre-publication promotion were macabre enough to make it the perfect book to release on Halloween. Any ghoul can buy it.