Scammer of the Tribe: Bernie Madoff ripped off Jewish orgs. around world
Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff is escorted by police and photographed by the media as he departs US Federal Court after a hearing in New York, January 5, 2009.
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
His 2008 arrest revealed the extent of his Ponzi scheme, which had a devastating effect on Jewish organizations worldwide.
Bernie Madoff, who died on Wednesday at 82 while serving a 150-year sentence for running the largest Ponzi scheme in history, didn’t prey only on the super-rich. He also scammed dozens of Jewish organizations in the US and charities in Israel, several of which were forced to close down because they lost everything. Many others had to make severe cutbacks.His December 11, 2008, arrest, which came just after the subprime mortgage financial crisis in America, revealed the extent of his scheme that had such a devastating effect around the world: 37,000 victims in 136 countries.Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which supports hospitals and other institutions in Israel, said it lost $90 million that it had invested with Madoff; in 2010, WZO pledged to pay back $45 million of the money that it had made earlier with the financier.Former Hadassah CFO Sheryl Weinstein claimed to have had a long-term affair with Madoff and wrote a book about it in 2009: Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie and Me. She spoke witheringly about Madoff at his sentencing hearing, calling him “a beast” and urging the judge to give him a harsh sentence, which he did.
Madoff’s scorched-earth policy burned scores of organizations, among them Yeshiva University, where Madoff served as the treasurer of the Board of Trustees and which lost over $100 million; the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles with losses of $25.5 million; and Washington’s Jewish Federation, which was bilked of $10 million. The Ramaz day school in New York lost over $5 million, while the American Jewish Congress found that about two-thirds of its nearly $17 million endowment was gone.Nothing was sacred: Madoff reportedly scammed Elie Wiesel’s charitable foundation out of over $36 million. The Wall Street Journal reported that Steven Spielberg’s charity, the Wunderkinder Foundation, invested nearly 70% of its money with Madoff, most of which was lost. And Fred Wilpon, the Jewish owner of the New York Mets, was forced to pay $162 million in restitution, eventually forcing him to sell the team.No group was apparently too small to steal from, either. The American branch of Elem, an Israeli organization that helps youth in distress, lost $850,000 it invested with him, according to The New York Times, as did Yad Sarah, the Israeli medical charity, which reported losses of $1.5 million. According to various reports, the Technion lost about $6 million.The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Massachusetts announced it would close after losing about $8 million – all it had. The Chais Family Foundation, which gave over $10 million each year to Jewish causes in Israel, the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, also had to shut down. While Madoff eventually paid for his crimes, the sheer scale of his fraud created a mystique, which was irresistible to filmmakers. Richard Dreyfuss played him in the 2016 miniseries, Madoff. Robert De Niro portrayed him in The Wizard of Lies, directed by Barry Levinson, in 2017, with Michelle Pfeiffer as the unlikely choice to play his wife, Ruth. “I just feel like such a total putz,” she says upon learning the extent of his fraud. There were also a number of documentaries, including In God We Trust, Chasing Madoff, and the aptly titled, Madoff: The Most Hated Man in America.Reuters contributed to this report.