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Option #2: Bernie Madoff

Reference the Madoff 10 Years Later: Ep. 1 | Madoff Behind Bards (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) video.

A Ponzi scheme occurs when a fraudster uses deposits of new investors to pay off previous investors; no real investing is happening. A Ponzi scheme will collapse if new clients don’t invest, or their investments are too small to fund a decent return to previous investors.

Ponzi schemes are based on trust and greed. The fraudster develops trust by building a relationship with the investors. The fraudster usually gains trust through their actions, their professional, social, or religious affiliations, and personal references. Fraudsters exploit the greed of their investors, who see a chance to obtain higher returns than usual. Because the investors trust the fraudster, they do not perform their normal due diligence.

In March 2009, Madoff pled guilty to 11 federal crimes and acknowledged turning his broker-dealer business into a substantial Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of billions. Federal investigators believe that the fraud began as early as the 1980s and the whole thing was possibly never legitimate. The fraud totaled almost $65. On June 29, 2009, Madoff was sentenced to the maximum 150 years. In 2021, he died in prison.

Madoff was once the chair of NASDAQ and often spoke about the securities industry on CNBC. Madoff took advantage of his connections in the investment community and made it seem like it was an honor to invest with him. A Ponzi scheme can only work if plenty of funds are brought in year after year to pay off previous past investors; as such, Ponzi schemes grow exponentially until they collapse. Until that collapse, Madoff had a luxurious lifestyle.

Madoff pulled this off by omitting all the transactions from his formal books. He hired a CPA firm to audit the books, but that audit didn’t really occur. In fact, the CPA was violating independence requirements by being an investor in the fund himself. For a fund of its size, it would normally be audited by a very large, high-quality audit firm. The investors were greedy and enjoyed the higher returns instead. They trusted Madoff, so they didn’t perform the typical due diligence with a verifiable external audit.

It is alleged (as reported on a CNBC Primetime Special) that one of Madoff’s investors was with the Russian mob and Madoff chose to turn himself in and plead guilty because he feared for both his life and that of his sons. Many have speculated that his sons helped him orchestrate the fraud: both died within a few years of the fraud being revealed. As a result of this fraud, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) began requiring broker-dealers to obtain audits using firms registered with the PCAOB, and the PCAOB now sets standards for audits of broker-dealers.


Please respond to the following questions:

  1. How would you describe a Ponzi scheme? What are some other examples of this type of scheme outside of this case?
  2. Describe the essential elements of the Bernie Madoff fraud. What made it so effective?
  3. Is this fraud primarily a case of asset misappropriation or fraudulent financial reporting? Explain the reason for your answer.
  4. Do you believe the PCAOB actions, in this case, will keep this from occurring in the future? Explain.

Your written response paper should be 3-4 pages in length. Please type your paper in a Word document and follow APA format, according to CSU Global Writing Center (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.). Include a title page and reference page. Use two (2) outside academic sources other than the textbook, course materials, or additional information provided as part of the course materials.

Requirements: 3-4 Pages not counting reference or cover page

Answer preview

This set of circumstances pushed Madoff to create a Ponzi scheme. Madoff was a well-respected investor within the corporate world. He leveraged such credibility to lure in numerous investors with the promise their investment would accrue incredibly high returns. Doing this encouraged his investors to continue funneling money into his venture (Volastro, 2018). Madoff never disclosed how exactly his investment firm made such high returns, terming the strategies they used as privileged information which the investors did not need to know (Volastro, 2018). The fact that Madoff was popular as a successful investor within the financial industry made it easier for investors to trust him and refrain from questioning him about his company’s operations.

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