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11.04.11

Beast Exclusive: Andrew Madoff Talks Back

The new memoir about the Madoff family, Truth and Consequences, has sparked both fury and praise. The book’s author, Laurie Sandell, asks Andrew Madoff, Bernie’s surviving son, if he regrets going public with his life story.

Five days ago, my book Truth and Consequences hit bookshelves, telling the life story of the embattled Madoff family through the eyes of Bernie’s wife, Ruth; Bernie’s son Andrew; and Andrew’s fiancée, Catherine Hooper. Since then, Andrew Madoff has faced a tsunami of opinions, running the gamut from sympathetic to vitriolic. I sat down with him to talk about his decision to do the book—and whether he has had any second thoughts now that it’s done.

How do you feel about the reaction to the book so far—has it been more positive or negative than you expected?

It’s definitely been more positive. I’ve gotten an enormous number of emails and phone calls from people who I know, but more importantly, from complete strangers who wrote to offer their words of kindness and support.

You, your mother, and your fiancée, Catherine, have made various TV appearances this week, and Catherine came under fire in one interview for accepting profits from the book. How do you feel about people reacting to the media coverage and not to the book itself?

Some people are not making a new judgment based on the book itself; they’re continuing the theme of negative spin that has been around since all of this happened. A lot of people haven’t bothered to pass judgment on whether we were involved or not—they just take it as an article of faith that we were. They assume that my mother and I have billions of dollars that people lost sitting in our bank accounts, and they’re wondering why we aren’t giving it back, not recognizing that we don’t actually have it—nor are we alleged to have it. I think that’s where a lot of anger comes from: the assumption that we’re still sitting on the spoils of the crime. It was interesting when you gave that interview to Good Day New York and the male host asked you, “Are we supposed to think about this in a different way now?” Yes, that’s exactly what we’re asking people to do. I wish people would read the book and make their judgments based on the contents, but that’s probably not reality.

Do you feel more misunderstood—or less—now that the book is out?

I think the people who are making an effort to understand the truth have a much better understanding of what happened. There are people who have no interest in gaining a better understanding; they’re just angry, and their rage blots everything else out.

You said on 60 Minutes that you would never speak to your father again. Do you really believe that?

I will never speak to him again. I certainly have gotten a few letters from people saying things like, “You need to find it in your heart to forgive him.” I’m just not there yet. The anger towards him has not subsided at all. Every negative thing that continues to happen to me is a reminder that this is all his doing. You went through something similar with your own father, but you got to deal with your pain privately. Everything I do gets judged through the lens of this scandal. And that is awful.

Do you think the book will help or hurt the disaster-preparedness business that you run with Catherine, Black Umbrella?

It will definitely help Black Umbrella. Since the book came out, we’ve gotten an enormous number of leads and visits to our website have skyrocketed. Our biggest challenge in making this business successful is raising people’s awareness of it. There’s no business like it in the world, so the fact that people are Googling us and visiting the website is tremendous.

What, exactly, does Black Umbrella do?

We build customized emergency safety plans for families and individuals, and help people prepare for unexpected events in their lives, like losing a job, getting a divorce, or death of a loved one—or a larger-scale disaster like a fire, flood, or an earthquake. We help people organize their important papers and critical documents; help arm them with supplies for their home, give them customized “go bags”—made up of a wide range of supplies such as a multitool, flashlight, mask, first-aid kit, emergency food, water purification, cash, and important papers—so they can evacuate their homes, if need be.

Catherine came up with this business idea before any of this happened. That’s pretty ironic.

She conceived of the business in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There’s no question that my own experiences drove home the importance of being prepared in advance. When I left my office never to return again, I lost access to all of my important papers: the title to my car, tax returns, financial statements, and everything that was in my file drawers. It took me a year to get back to where I needed to be. When people lose a job, it’s not at all uncommon to be escorted out of your office without access to your things. A year later I ended up getting my stuff back, but most people wouldn’t. I will never let that happen to me again.

“They assume that my mother and I have billions of dollars that people lost sitting in our bank accounts, and they’re wondering why we aren’t giving it back, not recognizing that we don’t actually have it....”

Are you glad you did the book?

Yes, I am. I look forward to the next few months, when people will have the chance to read it. I think they will have the same reaction they had when they saw 60 Minutes, but the book has a lot more detail. I think a lot of people who rushed to negative judgment assumed that we were a family business and operated as a single unit. When you read the book, it becomes very clear that in addition to the two halves of the business being completely separate, there was a lot of discord in the family. It becomes easier to imagine that my father was doing something of which we were completely unaware when you understand the personal dynamics that existed between him and me, in particular.

What are some of the stories in the book that you never thought you would share with the world?

The story of my wife’s infidelity, the stories about fights with my brother, and the fights between our wives. Those things were completely private; even people who were close to us didn’t have insight into the fact that this was happening. The personal dynamics between me and Mark … that was a very private relationship. It felt important to me to give people a full picture of who I am, even though it was tough to share.

Any regrets about having done this?

No. I’m very happy with the finished product, even though it was hard for me. The roller coaster of working with my mom was a challenge. I think we’re in a better place than we were beforehand, and she’s benefited tremendously from the positive exposure that she’s gotten in the press. At 70, her energy to fight back against negative stuff and the concept of starting from scratch is just debilitating. She feels like, What’s the point? Why bother? I hope to have a very long life ahead of me, so I’ve got a lot of incentive to repair the damage that was done. She feels less of that. But I think she has another 20 years ahead of her. Both of her parents lived into their mid-90s, so I think it makes great sense for her to focus on the rebuilding process.

What did you go through with your mother while doing this book?

I saw some parallels between her and my brother in the way they both reacted to the press, really focusing on the negative and not seeing the positive. When it comes to the media, she struggles to maintain perspective about good news versus bad. One negative article erases 10 positive ones, irrespective of how many people are reading the positive versus the negative ones.

How hard was it to get your mom on board to do this project?

Not hard at all. She was very quick to want to do it, even enthusiastic. As the project went on, and I repeatedly offered her the opportunity to pull out, and she was almost insistent that she stick with it, which included the public appearances.

Let’s talk about the victims. What do you feel about them, who are you in touch with, what are your hopes for them?

I’ve continued to be in touch with a lot of the victims, as I have from the beginning. Many who knew my parents reached out this week to offer words of support, which has been really nice. As for the ones I’ve never met, when I see how angry and upset they still are—as they should be—it’s just a reminder to me of how devastated they were by what my father did. As if I need a reminder … it’s with me every minute of every day. My hopes for the victims are that they get back as much as they can of what they lost, and that they get treated fairly by the trustee. So many of the victims feel that they got victimized twice: first by my father and now by the trustee, and I hope that they’re able to work through that process and negotiate a fair settlement with him, so that they can rebuild their lives. I hope they have the opportunity to move on with their lives in the way that I hope to move on with mine, so they can get past the anger and bitterness over what happened.

How do you feel when you read negative coverage about your mother in the press now?

I haven’t seen anything in the press about her. Most of the bad press has been about Catherine and me. I particularly hate the bad press about Catherine. She saved my life and has been nothing but vilified for it. It is incredibly painful for me to see any negative feelings directed toward Catherine after she’s been so wonderful and supportive in helping me get through this, and has done absolutely nothing wrong, and had nothing to do with the family or the scandal in any way, shape or form. All she did was stand by me and provide support. For her to be vilified for doing so is incredibly painful and unjust.

When Bernie first confessed his crime, your mother stayed by his side, which infuriated you. Since then, your relationship with your mom has greatly improved. Do you feel you have a better understanding of her mindset at the time?

A little bit. Knowing how much she was suffering was helpful. I still wish she had made different choices than she did. Her choices just further illustrated how much she was in my father’s thrall. He could have helped her make the right decisions and he didn’t, because he only cares about himself, and couldn’t care less about her or anybody else.

What are your hopes for the book?

I hope that people take the time to read it, and consider everything that’s in it. I hope that they judge all of us through an understanding of what actually happened, and not what they imagine happened, based on third-person accounts. It’s all out there now.