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Radiolab Presents: Ponzi Supernova

Friday, February 10, 2017 - 12:45 AM

(Courtesy of Audible)

We thought we knew the story of Bernie Madoff.  How he masterminded the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, leaving behind scores of distraught investors and a $65 billion black hole. 

But we had never heard the story from Madoff himself.

This week, reporter Steve Fishman and former Radiolabber Ellen Horne visit our studio to play us snippets from their extraordinary Audible series Ponzi Supernova, which features exclusive footage of the man who bamboozled the world.  After years of investigative reporting – including interviews with dozens of FBI and SEC agents, investors, traders, and attorneys – the pair scrutinize Madoff’s account to understand exactly why he did it, how he managed to pull it off, and how culpable he actually was. Was he a puppetmaster or a puppet? And if the latter, who else is to blame for the biggest financial fraud in history?

You can hear the entire series on iTunes or for free on Audible

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Steve Fishman and Ellen Horne

Hosted by:

Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich


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Comments [28]

Roger Shaw from USA

I was very disappointed with this episode. Didn't listen to it beyond a few minutes. The sound quality was terrible. This was akin to tabloid podcast. Science is your niche. Stick to it. I mistakenly left a comment on Shots Fired. Come to think of it, that would belong to This American Life. The CRISPR episode was fantabulous.

Mar. 30 2017 10:32 AM
ted from Ventura County

I have some big problems with Steve Fishman's reporting..

-The Financial Scam was more likely an affinity fraud than a Ponzi Scheme. It is ironic that Fishman was using the narrative that Madoff was shunned from the Wall Street Club, when Madoff's prowled for clients at mainly Jewish Country Clubs throughout the country.. Madoff most likely learn the scam from his father in law, an accountant, and the scam was used as an accountant ploy, more than a Ponzi Scam..

-The Disaster was not a $65 Billion Dollar loss. The total money loss was around $17.5 billion with around $11 billion that has been recovered. BMIS never made a trade with its Investment Clients. The money lost was with the initial investment. Steve Fishman should know this, people extrapolated their losses by thinking their money grew with Madoff. They thought their losses came with the growth of their investment. There was no growth just smoke and mirror investment statements to fool the people..

-Madoff and his associates didn't have banks showered them with investments. Madoff prowled for new clients, mainly Jewish, and many of them Jewish charities or foundations who didn't probed too much about the alleged steady growth they received, like Hassadah, (which had to pay $45 million back)

-As much there were lazy Hedge Fund Managers and Investment Advisors, like J. Erza Merkin who gave business to Madoff, there were many red flags about Bernie Madoff and BMIS before the scandal broke in Dec. 2008. Many Financial Professionals steered their clients away from BMIS, because they didn't keep the money with a third party, and Madoff's couldn't really explain to many Financial Professionals how he can get his steady returns..

-Madoff's story that his sons didn't know about the Affinity Fraud is a lie. Bernie Madoff and Ruth Madoff were away for months at a time from BMIS. The Market Maker side of the business lost money. Madoff launder the funds from BMIS to his London Office to a Bank of New York account, to make it appear revenue was coming in.. Anyone would raise alarm bells on what was going on. Ditto that the investment advisory side of the business was not registered until a couple years before the affinity fraud fell apart. Ditto on how the Auditor was a not even licensed to audit a business, (his father in law was part of the Affinity Fraud) This Fraud was not done by Bernie Madoff alone, nor anyone who could read a balance sheet working at BMIS couldn't ignore it. Peter Madoff was the Compliance officer, and he did go to Prison for his role in the Affinity Fraud..

My big problem with the sloppiness of this reporting, is the $65 billion loss. The Bankruptcy Trustee, Irving Picard, (Who's law firm has made something over $800 million in fees working on this bankruptcy case) has stated around $17.5 billion was estimated to be loss. That is big difference than the initial $65 billion dollar loss that was first reported.

Mar. 10 2017 12:41 PM

Your "recommended link"to the series is broken.

Mar. 07 2017 11:32 PM
Bijouloni from California

I was very disappointed that there was no background info given at the beginning. As a busy physician I have no time for the news and rely on NPR to give me background so I know the context for what I'm listening to. I have no idea who this Madoff character is. Yes, I live in a hole, but I was let down this time. Thought providing context was one of public radios unshakeable values. Oh well.

Mar. 02 2017 10:20 PM

It wasnt very clear when listening to this that you have to listen to the full story on the Audible app. It does not seem to be possible to listen without using the app.

Mar. 02 2017 02:47 PM
Tom Hoying from Ohio

what does this have to do with science, though?

Feb. 24 2017 03:38 PM
Brandon from St. Paul, MN

Anybody else miss the "anj NPR" in the opening?

Feb. 23 2017 10:21 AM
Jeremiah from Portland

The end of the show felt like a bait and switch. Now go elseware to hear the end of the story.

Feb. 15 2017 10:33 PM
Ben from Alabama


I'm curious how you assembled the antisemitic accusation. Can you elaborate?

Feb. 15 2017 11:36 AM

Really wish you'd put a trigger warning for suicide at the beginning of this episode. The description was short but packed a big punch and I wish I hadn't heard it. Thanks!

Feb. 15 2017 11:34 AM
Eric Skold

Not a Ponzi scheme, but an unethical bait and switch. Nice job Radiolab in demonstrating how your ethics are for sale.

Next on Radiolab, "Jeff Bezos - Genius."

Feb. 15 2017 01:15 AM
Tug from Las Vegas

Boso, you'll need to pay audible for the next segment, this isn't a Rabiolab series it's an series. Radiolab just rebroadcast the 1st part.

Feb. 14 2017 03:23 PM
boso de niro from San Jose

I concur with Zoey, I think this episode On Bernie Madeoff and Ponzie schemes was excellent and compelling. BTW all things considered, I think Bernie was dealt a severe blow and has paid dearly for his sins. I also think his family treated him pretty damn shabby too, and their behavior wouldn't have been tolerated in a real crime family. Look forward to the next segment.

Feb. 14 2017 01:26 PM
MB in ABQ from NM, USA.

"Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."

Not lately, much, sadly.

Feb. 13 2017 01:03 PM
MB in ABQ from NM, USA

What does this have to do with science, exactly? There are a number of good economics podcasts, and there is a great, general subject podcast about our American lives, This American Life. This is supposed to be a SCIENCE podcast. Like every other non-science show that appears from radiolab, I delete it without listening. If it appears in a forum that I listen to expecting this sort of thing, I will listen.

Is the current state of science and technology somehow so bereft of content, that radiolab must spend the majority of their efforts on stories already oversold by other outlets?

Feb. 13 2017 01:00 PM
Lola Franklin

Are you have a new single? Why I don't saw her on site ?

Feb. 13 2017 04:02 AM
Charles Mann from US

Ugh. Annoying that this episode was one long ad for Audible. If I knew how little content there was going to be, I wouldn't have listened to the whole episode.

In the future, please let us know in the beginning when the episode is going to be a teaser ad!

Feb. 12 2017 06:15 PM
casp from Australia

Tried to access the Audible "podcast" but it's not a podcast, it's content within their walled garden that isn't available where I live. I found the content insightful but now it just feels all like a big ad.

Feb. 12 2017 09:55 AM
Tebra from Philadelphia

The biggest financial disaster to date has to be Paul Greenspan, who admitted his idea that the free unfettered capitalism worked, was actually a false belief, a delusion.

Feb. 11 2017 09:07 PM
Lmm3 from CA

Why do Fishman and Horne credit Madoff as a wizard, mastermind, and genius? Aren't you giving him too much credit? According to Jad Abumrad a Ponzi scheme is just shuffling money from one investor to another.

This episode about Madoff made me angry and disgusted. Why post this now? It's dark days we're in.

Radiolab can you please give us something uplifting?

Feb. 11 2017 08:32 PM
Lmm3 from CA

I was looking forward to this podcast. But I soon became disappointed when it opened with Madoff's childhood. It seemed the narrative was setting us up to try to excuse Madoff's later criminal actions as due to his father's failure as a businessman. I thought the narrator was sowing unjustified seeds of sympathy for the perpetrator. The opening goes on to describe how Madoff's first venture failed. It also seems that given Madoff's early experiences with money he should have been particularly sensitive to how devastating it is to lose money, especially people's retirement funds.

But maybe I stopped listening too soon. Based on Ellen Horne's comment above it sounds like the victims and the crime aren't so straightforward. Maybe the victims are partially to blame?

I'll continue to listen awhile longer.

Feb. 11 2017 02:37 PM
Dom from Everywhere

uh, radiolab didn't produce this episode audible .com did

Feb. 10 2017 08:38 PM
Kevin from Guelph ontario

Agree with zoey, great episode.

Feb. 10 2017 06:18 PM

It seems surprising to me that the only comments here are negative.

This is a great episode! I'm grateful to RadioLab for producing it.

Feb. 10 2017 03:32 PM
Ponzi G from West Coast = Best Coast

Isn't Radiolab and WNYC public radio? I found it strange that the episode was an advertisement for an Audible show. Maybe this was a budget issue to turn the series into a for-profit thing instead of giving it away. It's an interesting subject as I like learning about the economic collapse, but how this was presented was a little off; this isn't very science-cy for a science podcast.

Googling a little, looks like Ellen Horne was picked up by Audible as an executive producer. Nothing wrong with making a career shift, but was this disclosed on the show? I think it would be good to take five minutes at the beginning explaining any and all possible conflicts of interest and how this is an Audible series we need to pay for, being advertised on a public radio show.

I love Radiolab, but this episode could have been more clear with a slight pivot in explaining the relationship with Audible. I am definitely considering paying for the Audible series, but I thought something like this would have been great (for free, FREE FREE FREE!) on Planet Money, This American Life, or even Radiolab.

Feb. 10 2017 01:09 PM
Greg G from some place warm

Yuck. Once again RL puts out material that has nothing to do with science and is a thinly veiled advertisement for something else. Yuck. Can't think of anyone else who's story I could care less about than Madoff. Sadly I must admit that this is the first RL episode that I promptly deleted after reading the description. That would have been unthinkable for me just a year ago. What is going on over at WNYC? Where has the RL that I fell in love with gone? Your conversion to a TAL clone is not almost complete. Odd and sad...really really sad.

Feb. 10 2017 11:52 AM
Ellen Horne from Audible in Newark, NJ

Producer of the series, here, writing in response.

Anti-semitic propaganda may be in the eye of the beholder. THAT was not our intent in any way. Personally, as a child of a holocaust refugee, it's a charge with some weight.

One thing I think is a big misconception about Madoff and his scheme is that is was primarily an affinity crime. As you'll hear in the rest of our series - especially episodes 5 and 6 - some of the victims - in fact the vast majority of those who lost money - are surprising. And I think if you pan out to view the larger context, beyond the celebrity-obsessed focus of this one bad guy - you'll question the moral actions of many actors from a variety of different backgrounds.

Feb. 10 2017 11:08 AM

From the hosts to the writers to the main character. What a beautiful antisemitic panflet.

Feb. 10 2017 06:45 AM

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