Bravo Harry Markopolos!

By Markos N. Kaminis

While every other Congressman mispronounced his name, Harry Markopolos turned out to be a hero on a grand scale. Harry testified before a House panel today on his long-unheralded but finally understood unveiling of Bernie Madoff. The details of his heroic effort were broadcast in living color to the masses today. The lengths to which this man went for the sake of righteousness are unheard of in today's dirty society. His selflessness and concern are as rare to find in today's society as we suspect it is to find a pilot who can successfully land an airplane on a river without any engine power. It's good to know that in this world of greed ridden thieves and selfish heartlessness, there are still heroes as well, and a Greek one at that.

Harry Markopolos told the House Financial Services Committee today that it took him about five hours to figure out that Bernie Madoff was a fraud. He said it was plainly evident, but he did some financial modeling to prove it. Markopolos noted the hardest evidence was found in the Wall Street Journal options section; you could match up his options holdings to the WSJ's accounting of the open interest on these securities. He said, you would clearly see that Madoff was claiming to own more options than even existed on the market for some securities. Of course, we also know that Madoff's holdings list included a mutual fund that had ceased to exist. Harry agreed he probably put a hundred hours (or so) into evidence compilation, all for the sake of justice and "for the American flag," as he put it.

The Congressmen commended Harry, and even offered him a key job at the SEC. He responded in what is now understood as classic Harry selfless manner, that family obligations would keep him from taking such a job for at least the next two years. This was reminiscent to me of a rumor I heard about his initial response to film producer inquiries. When asked about movie rights and such, he responded that he had no interest; that Hollywood would just pervert the story with sex and drugs.

You watched the man on C-SPAN, and you thought to yourself, is he real? Is this possible? Can someone like this still exist in today's day and age? Yes he is for real! When God looks at Harry on his C-SPAN in the sky, we suspect he likes what he sees.

During his testimony, Mr. Markopolos even noted that he offered to go undercover for the sake of justice, something far and beyond the call of duty of a private citizen of this country. The story seems made for film, no doubt, as it included real cloak and dagger. Mr. Markopolos said he discerned there was a good chance Eliot Spitzer might be a Madoff investor. Thus, he submitted his information to the New York Attorney General's office in a manner worthy of James Bond. He insured there was not a trace of his finger prints on the document, and kept his name relatively unknown to the group. He went even farther than this, offering his services to the SEC, to go undercover, keeping his identity unknown to all in order to bring Madoff to justice. I must admit that it seems a bit much when watching it from the comfort of your living room, but try to imagine how far someone who was in as deep as Madoff might go to ensure his theft remained under the radar.

Relative to this concern, Congressman Ackerman asked Harry exactly why he feared for his life. He then noted Harry's mention of mafia funds invested through Madoff's offshore feeder funds. Ackerman sought to tie the two together in asking if there was some unreported threat against Markopolos. Harry comically, while at the same time very seriously, noted directly to the "Russian mobsters and Latin American drug cartels" that might be watching, that he was acting on their behalf, to save their money from Madoff's theft of them. Gee wiz... if there were ever a good reason to keep Madoff locked away in isolation, and not roaming freely on the Upper East Side, it would seem a vengeful mafia interest would be adequate enough.

When asked by Congressman Ackerman if Madoff could have acted alone, Markopolos sternly responded, "No!" Harry said "he had a lot of help," specifically a robust IT department making sure all the false transactions added up. He noted that the people handling the wire transfers of incoming and outgoing funds must have had dirty hands as well.

Madoff cunningly kept under the radar by "auditor shopping." According to Markopolos, Madoff had three different auditors from three different countries for the year end reporting of 2004, 2005 and 2006. Auditor shopping is something a reporting firm might do to best ensure it received a favorable opinion, and changing auditors each year might have occurred in order to keep any one auditor from gaining too much familiarity with Madoff's operations. The auditors likely viewed association with Madoff as a great testament to their own businesses and a useful marketing tool, at least when signing on. In any event, the auditors come into question now, since they either failed due to incompetence or due to participation.

One Congressman, who seemed a huge fan of this analytical hero, asked him how he knew exactly where the money was. Markopolos strongly replied, "My team was out there in the field talking to the Madoff feeder funds and identifying who they were...we identified 14 feeder funds, of which only two have come public. There are twelve more out there hiding in the weeds." This man, who is quickly becoming a legend of modern financial market history, is turning over a list of these funds to the SEC Inspector General on Thursday.

The House Committee apologized to Markopolos for failing him, and for the SEC's failure of him. The story of the many failures of the Securities and Exchange Commission is a long one, and destined for its own article here. This piece is meant to shed light on one of this generation's heroes, and to remind the world that good men still exist. Harry's day must have offered one of those moments most of us experience at some point in our lives; it's when our efforts are finally understood, that moment when we can exhale. God bless you Harry. You can exhale now.

(Posting date 20 March 2009)

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