Few people are going to shed tears for Bernard Madoff, even though the 71-year-old con man is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.
As the judge who sentenced Madoff to 150 years behind bars said, the crimes Madoff committed were “extraordinarily evil.”
In what may be the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, Madoff took money from widows and people with disabled children, from Hollywood celebrities and charitable organizations.
He promised them all hefty rates of return, knowing full well he had no assets to back up their investments except money from his next marks.
But if Madoff’s sentence isn’t lamented, the performance of the Securities and Exchange Commission should be. The federal agency began receiving complaints about Madoff’s scheme at least nine years ago. It even found him guilty of a number of technical violations in 2006, but declined to pursue the investigation further, even though some people were already accusing Madoff of running a Ponzi scheme.
Government can’t prevent people from investing their money in too-good-to-be-true financial schemes. But when suspicions arise and complaints are repeatedly filed about a particular scheme, it ought to work diligently to determine the truth.
To do less is extraordinarily negligent.