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Truth and Consequences
Life Inside the Madoff Family
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With unprecedented access to the surviving family members — wife Ruth, son Andrew and his fiancéee Catherine Hooper — journalist Laurie Sandell reveals the personal details behind the headlines.
How did Andrew and Mark, the sons who’d spent their lives believing in and building their own families around their father’s business first learn of the massive deception? How does a wife, who adored her husband since they were teenagers, begin to understand the ramifications of his actions? The Madoffs were a tight-knit and even claustrophobic clan, sticking together through marriages, divorces, and illnesses. But the pressures of enduring the massive scandal push them to their breaking points, most of all son Mark, whose suicide is one of the many tragedies that grew in the wake of the scandal.
Muzzled by lawyers, vilified by the media and roundly condemned by the public, the Madoffs have chosen to keep their silence — until now. Ultimately, theirs is one of the most riveting stories of our time: a modern-day Greek tragedy about money, power, lies, family, truth and consequences.
Table of Contents
In the summer of 2009, my first book was released, a graphic memoir called The Impostor's Daughter. The book was about finding out that my eccentric, charming Argentine father was in fact a pathological liar and con artist. Instead of working for the CIA, as I'd long suspected, he'd lived off stolen cash from friends and family. His college degrees were forged, his heroics in Vietnam invented. The revelations threw a grenade into the middle of our family and caused a rift that has yet to heal: My mother denied what I'd written and refused to read the manuscript; my father stopped speaking to me. Still, I knew that the consequences of remaining silent were greater than those of telling the truth. So I wrote the book in spite of my family's protests.
About a month after it came out, I was backstage after a reading when two women approached and asked if they could speak to me privately. The shorter of the two was dressed in a soft silk blouse with cigarette pants and had thick dark hair that fell in waves to the middle of her back. She looked to be in her midthirties.
"This reading really hit home," she said. "I'm so sorry for what happened to you."
"Tell her who you are," her friend urged.
"I hope you can be discreet. I'm the fiancée of Andrew Madoff." As if I didn't recognize the name, she added, "He's the son of Bernard Madoff."
I tried not to register shock; the scandal wasn't even a year old and was still making headlines on a daily basis. I now recognized the name of the woman standing in front of me: Catherine Hooper. In the press, she'd been labeled a home-wrecker. Supposedly, Andrew had left his wife of sixteen years to be with her. She said she'd heard of my book but hadn't yet read it and that she planned to give a copy to Andrew that night; she wondered if I wanted to meet for coffee later in the week. We spoke for a few more minutes and I gave her my business card. Though my father's cons were small compared with Bernie Madoff's, I could relate to the devastating effect that lies, grandiosity, and secretiveness could have on a person. I, too, believed my father was brilliant and unimpeachable, until I was in my thirties and a much-published magazine writer. I'd even had the unsettling experience of having people ask, "How do we know that you're not a liar, given your father's history?" So Andrew and I—and Catherine, by proxy—belonged to the same small society; we understood each other in a way that few other people could.
Still, Andrew was a Madoff, and that meant I needed to proceed with caution. I'd already been taken in by one sociopath—my own father—and I wasn't about to get involved with another. All I knew about Andrew was what I'd read in the press, and the majority of articles suggested he was going to be taken away in handcuffs any day. At the time, my curiosity was greater than my trepidation, so when Catherine invited me to dinner at their home, I went. Andrew looked like the photos I'd seen in Vanity Fair: a tall, more handsome version of his father. I found him to be humble, self-effacing, and quieter than I'd anticipated. But questions about my father tumbled out of him as if he'd been storing them up: What was my relationship like with him today? How was I handling my anger, and my grief? What had I done with the photos of him—had I torn them up? Andrew had kept only one on display, a large one that hung in the hallway near his front door. In it, Andrew stood on a dock next to a large bluefin tuna. Bernie stood in the background, smiling proudly, wearing a green velour crewneck shirt and running shorts.
During dinner, Catherine and Andrew shared highly personal details about the days and weeks following the confession. By then, they'd both read my book; I got the sense that they saw me as a comrade of sorts, though in reality I was a journalist who owed them no allegiance. Fascinated, I listened to Andrew's account of what it was like when he came home the night his father dramatically confessed to running the world's largest Ponzi scheme, and then how he handled the crush of paparazzi that appeared in the following days and the overnight alienation from his parents.
Over the next two years, I was offered a glimpse inside a world that had been stripped of a future and existed only in a tenuous present. Andrew and Catherine invited me to Thanksgiving dinner; estranged from my own father, I chose to go. They had gathered a group of friends who were also at odds with their families or lived too far away to make the trip home. But old friends of Andrew's, and even Andrew's brother, Mark, were nowhere to be found.
As Catherine and Andrew took me further into their confidence—and later introduced me to Andrew's mother, Ruth—I would come to discover that Andrew was not a sociopath; that he was, as much as he detested the word, a victim of his father like so many thousands of others. I observed, firsthand, the deep anguish he was suffering over his father's betrayal and the fallout that followed. I also learned that the Madoff family dysfunction was far worse than anything reported in the press: There had been affairs, power struggles between the siblings—even, I was shocked to find out, multiple suicide attempts. The story was Shakespearean in scope, yet only the most banal details had been made available to the public. Andrew, who'd been muzzled by his lawyers since the day of the confession, desperately wanted to tell his story. Catherine was prepared to support him, as she had all along. Ruth, whose relationship with Andrew was still precarious, just wanted her family back, telling me poignantly, "I don't miss the money—I miss nothing except my friends."
In early 2011, Catherine approached me with an idea for a book on emergency preparedness as a companion guide to her company, Black Umbrella. I offered to put her in touch with my contacts in publishing, but it quickly became clear that she was not going to be able to move on with her life and focus on her passion until she'd addressed the elephant in the room: the Madoff story. Catherine talked to various family members and together they reached the conclusion to talk about their painful past. I did not hesitate to accept the invitation to delve into their lives. After all, I'd gone through a similar—and singular—experience of betrayal. I felt uniquely qualified to cut through the emotion and self-interest that can accompany a story like this one, and get to the truth.
That said, this book is not meant to be a piece of investigative journalism. It is the human side of a tale that has, so far, been told only in terms of dollars and cents. While the world has read about the pain and suffering of scores of people at the hands of Bernie Madoff, no one has been privy to the effect his actions had upon the people who knew and loved him best.
Until this moment, Andrew Madoff; Ruth Madoff; Catherine Hooper; Ruth's sister, Joan Roman; and Mark Madoff's first wife, Susan Elkin, have told their personal story to no one. Because of the experiences we've all had with corrupt family members, I have been granted an unfettered look inside their lives. As for Bernie, I deliberately chose not to invite him to participate in this book. This is his family's story—not his. Over the course of six months, I sat down with them for dozens of hours of intimate interviews, and they held back nothing. Here is their astonishing story.
AN UNTHINKABLE TURN OF EVENTS
Catherine moved through the living room, trying to find her shoes. They were black patent-leather lace-up Gucci booties, and she planned to wear them to her fiancée, Andrew's, office Christmas party that night, but everything she owned was hidden in boxes. The date was December 9, 2008. Two days earlier, she and Andrew had moved into an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with floor-to-ceiling fishbowl windows and glossy parquet floors. Her toe caught something and she tripped; it was a stuffed bunny, left behind by her three-year-old daughter, Sophie. Picking it up, she tossed it into a wicker basket in her daughter's room. She was running late and had two hours of professional hair and makeup appointments ahead of her. Being a part of Andrew's family meant looking the part.
The night, she knew, was going to be important. The party would take place at Rosa Mexicano, and she hoped it would serve as an informal coming-out for the two of them as a newly engaged couple. She'd planned her look down to the last detail: A Derek Lam dress made up of a flimsy, sheer pink blouse tucked into a skirt with a slim black bodice, her hair blown out into soft, long waves. Her signature pearl studs were freshly polished, and her simple engagement ring gleamed. Andrew's family, she felt, was gradually coming to accept her, and her presence at the party was a step in the right direction. But she wasn't there yet. Not by a long shot.
Andrew had asked her to give it time. He wasn't even divorced from his first wife, Debbie, and his family was famously insular. His parents, Ruth and Bernie, were pleasant enough but maintained a cool distance. Not only had they not thrown the two an engagement party, but they had barely congratulated either of them. Andrew's brother, Mark, had made no secret of his feelings for Catherine, going so far as to carry out a whisper campaign against the relationship soon after she and Andrew had started dating. But the Madoffs were going to be her family now, and she was going to have to live with the lack of warmth. If she'd learned anything from her failed first marriage, it was this: Accept the man you fell in love with, not the one you hoped he might become.
The night before, Andrew's two teenage daughters, Anne and Emily, had spent their first night with Catherine and Andrew in the new apartment. Anne had stormed in from school, carrying a bag from a neighborhood bodega with canned soup, Cheetos, and Milano cookies.
"Dinner's ready," Catherine called out to the pretty fifteen-year-old as she sailed past to her room.
"Oh, really? I didn't think you were going to cook anything, so I bought my own food." The door slammed, and Catherine looked at the bubbling tray of lasagna she had made, cooling on the counter in front of her.
She sighed. She couldn't force the girls to accept her; that would have to come with time. For now, she would focus on her work for Dior.
For the past year, Catherine had worked as a brand ambassador to the storied fashion house, consulting on events, creating focus groups, and modeling jewelry and clothes at parties. It was fun, fanciful work that gave her a break from her more grueling duties as a business owner. She'd taken the beloved, ramshackle Manhattan fly-fishing shop Urban Angler and turned it into a sleek, modern Fifth Avenue destination frequented by Wall Street's most powerful executives. It was, in fact, how she and Andrew had met; an accomplished fly fisherman himself, he'd become the largest investor in the shop. While working together in the trenches to save the business, they'd fallen in love.
That morning, Catherine had dropped Sophie at preschool and stopped by Dior's offices for a wrap-up discussion about the previous night's event. She'd returned to the apartment at 3:30 PM, just as Sophie was getting home. The three-year-old came bolting out of her bedroom, blond curls bouncing around her shoulders.
"Mommy, look!" She held up a pink, glittery ball and bounced it on the living room floor, where it ricocheted off one of the boxes. Catherine kissed the top of her daughter's head and squeezed her shoulders. She'd seen her for all of five minutes; now she was running out the door again. There will be time for her, she told herself, feeling awash in guilt.
"I'll be back in a few hours, Sophie. Be good!" she called. She'd been coparenting with Sophie's father, Jon, for the past two years, but the growth in her consulting work had forced her to hire a babysitter for the first time in Sophie's life. Waving good-bye to Josie, she disappeared into the elevator that took her down to the street.
Outside, the wind snapped as she gathered her trench coat around her. Sliding into the back of a cab, she leaned against the seat and closed her eyes. She knew it might be the only moment she had to rest all day. A minute later, her iPhone buzzed with an incoming text.
"We might not be going tonight," Andrew had written. She hesitated for a moment before calling him on his mobile phone. Catherine made a serious effort never to call him during business hours unless it was an emergency. An occasional cheeky text around lunchtime was fine, but interrupting him while he chaired a meeting at the Lymphoma Research Foundation or worked with his team to structure an energy deal would be an embarrassment. Still, if they weren't going to the party for some reason, she wanted to know before she embarked on two hours of beauty treatments while trying to get work done on her phone. Andrew picked up right away.
"Should I get my hair done or not?" she asked.
"Your hair?" He sounded distracted.
"For the party. Are we going?"
"Oh, yeah, yes, we're going. I think. I have to run."
She hung up and told the driver to continue down Park Avenue. Looking out the window, she felt a knot of dread form in her stomach. That text had to be about Mark. Andrew's older brother had grown increasingly quick to anger over the past eighteen months, and the two men had frequent blowups at the office that often resulted in canceled plans.
The cab pulled up at the corner closest to Deja Vous, a tiny salon on 56th Street that Catherine had been frequenting for fifteen years. Her stylist, Eli, kissed her cheek and led her to the shampooing station. Catherine leaned back against the molded black plastic chair and felt a gush of warm water cascade over her head. For the first time all day, she felt her shoulders start to relax. Then her iPhone buzzed again. She opened one eye and peered at the latest text from Andrew: "We're definitely not going tonight."
Blood rushed to her head and she felt her chest tighten. "I came in for nothing," she said into the air. Eli clucked sympathetically. Sitting up, her wet hair dripping onto her shoulders, Catherine punched in a quick message to Andrew: "Thanks. I could have spent those hours with Sophie." Well, nothing she could do about it now. She canceled her makeup appointment at Nars, dropped her phone into her lap, and tried to relax as Eli finished shampooing her hair. An hour later, she emerged into the crisp winter air and made her way through the throngs of people—mostly tourists—crowding the street. She took a taxi home, eager to get out of her dress.
When she walked in the door, Sophie flung herself at her legs. Catherine scooped up her daughter, breathing in the scent of her freshly washed hair. Thanking Josie, she shut the door behind her, kissed Sophie, and deposited her on the couch. Placing her hands on her hips, she surveyed the room. The apartment was as she'd left it—a mess. Where to begin? Large wardrobe boxes partially blocked a doorway; lamps, exercise equipment, and kitchen appliances were tangled in a pile by the front door. Catherine stripped off her dress and shoes, changed into utility pants and her favorite Star Trek T-shirt, and gathered her freshly styled hair into a ponytail. Randomly selecting a box, she slit it open and prepared to get to work.
By six o'clock, Catherine had finished unpacking the glassware and household goods and had moved on to the dishes. As she was placing them in the kitchen cabinet, she heard the elevator doors slide open. Andrew walked into the foyer and then, uncharacteristically, turned and walked straight into their bedroom. Catherine paused, holding a plate in midair. Andrew wasn't the type who liked to be crowded; when he was having a bad day, he preferred to be left alone. She turned back to the task at hand and continued stacking plates. Then she thought better of it, filled a glass with water, and took it into the bedroom.
Andrew was lying in the dark, on top of the white duvet that had been one of her contributions to their shared new home. He was still wearing his Brooks Brothers coat and shiny Alden loafers, the uniform he had worn almost every day of his twenty-year career at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. His eyes were closed, his hands clasped on his stomach, as though he were lying in a coffin.
All of the anger she'd felt earlier drained out of her. Placing the glass on the bedside table, she slipped out of the room. Clearly, whatever he was dealing with had nothing to do with Mark. A fight with his father, perhaps? It wasn't out of the question. He'd worked for Bernie for more than twenty years, but his father still treated him like a child most of the time. More likely, though, he'd taken a big hit in the stock market. Wall Street was imploding all around them. Bear Stearns had collapsed in March, Lehman Brothers was in bankruptcy, and the markets were in virtual paralysis as the government scrambled to prevent further financial meltdown.
At the Dior event the night before, where New York's society set had mingled with reality stars and other boldfaced names, Catherine couldn't help but notice the irony: Everyone was decked out in glittering jewels and getting photographed while talking about what horrible shape the world was in. Catherine had found herself in conversation with the CEO of Dior, Pamela Baxter, and her friend Brooke Travis, Dior's marketing director, about the topic du jour. "Andrew's trading desk is actually breaking even," she heard herself saying. "I'm proud of him for helping his guys manage the assets they're trading, considering everything that's going on." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she felt the slightest shift in their reactions, a cooling, a knitting together of perfectly groomed eyebrows. Berating herself silently, she'd clamped her lips together and stared into her glass of Moët et Chandon. Was it really a good idea for her to be bragging about her rich, successful husband-to-be when people were losing their jobs? Especially considering where she'd come from—did she even belong in this room?
Lately, she felt, she was always putting her foot in her mouth: A recent Vanity Fair article had featured comments by her friend Alexandra Lebenthal, who'd noted that many of her friends had lost half of everything they had in the 2008 financial meltdown and been forced to come to terms with how much of their social standing, marriages, and friendships had been based on their money. Now that the money was gone, did they really have a marriage anymore? Were their friends still their friends? She'd read sections of the article aloud to Andrew, who'd started to muse on his own friendships, then had abruptly stopped and said, "Don't read me any more—it's hitting too close to home."
Pausing outside the doorway, Catherine glanced back at Andrew one more time. Maybe someone had died, then… but he would have just come right out and told her.
Catherine prepared dinner for Sophie, then ran her a bath. After Sophie went to sleep—curled up like an angel in her new big-girl bed—Catherine went into her office. Huge shopping bags full of memorabilia from high school and college awaited her. Catherine started to sort through them, trying to kill time. Then she sat back and thought, I can't start this project tonight—this is a Sisyphean task. She decided to take a shower and clean off the newsprint staining her hands. The next time she looked at the clock it was 10:00 PM.
It had been four hours since Andrew had disappeared into their room, and still no sign of him. She finished applying Moroccan rose oil to her legs, slipped on a silk chemise, and tried to quell the flutter of anxiety starting to rise in her chest. Whatever it was, she now knew, it was bad. Perhaps as bad as a full-scale collapse of the firm. But wouldn't Andrew have seen such a thing coming? Surely he would have been notified ahead of his coworkers and given a few days to prepare. It could have been as simple as a bad trade. Yes, that was probably it. Or maybe his dad had made a bad trade. She didn't want to think about the alternative: a recurrence of Andrew's cancer. He'd been extremely lucky to go into remission from mantle cell lymphoma, one of the deadliest and rarest forms of the disease. Taking a deep breath, Catherine tiptoed into the bedroom with caution and braced herself for whatever she was going to face.
In the dark, she could just make out Andrew, still lying on the bed, exactly where she'd left him. His eyes remained closed; he hadn't moved from the position he'd been in hours before. She sat down on the bed next to him and resisted covering his hand with her own. Gathering her strength, she reminded herself not to make this about her own fears. It was her job to be there for him—and that was something at which she happened to excel. Whatever it was he had to tell her, she could handle it. She decided to be sympathetic but to downplay whatever it was he had to say. She cleared her throat and began. "We don't need to talk now. Unless someone has died, or whatever is bothering you is health-related, let's just talk tomorrow."
Andrew stirred in the darkness and dragged himself to a sitting position. He leaned over and turned on the light. She now saw his face: His eyes looked flat and dull.
"No, we need to talk right now. Because you need to decide whether or not you want to stay with me."
An arrow of fear pierced her heart. Whether or not she wanted to stay with him? Because, what—he was broke? There were fates far worse than moving to Brooklyn, pulling the kids out of private school, and trading vacations for extra hours at the office.
"Honey, don't be ridiculous. What happened?"
"I just turned my father in to the SEC for securities fraud." He closed his eyes and sank against the headboard. Catherine actually felt lighter, now that she knew what was going on. For years, he'd had conflicts with his father; Bernie had probably violated some minor filing rule. Andrew, being Mr. Law and Order, had turned him in.
"So he did something inappropriate… like Martha Stewart did?"
"My father told me and Mark that his business is just one big lie. It's a Ponzi scheme, to the tune of fifty billion dollars."
Catherine's mind went blank. "Do you believe him?"
"I don't know. It seems so outrageous, but I don't think he was making it up."
"Well, why wouldn't I stay with you? What are the possible repercussions of this?"
Andrew turned onto his side and held her gaze. He pointed to the large bare windows that extended the length of the apartment.
"Tomorrow, there are going to be cameras in front of our building and reporters on the roof of the buildings across the street. I am going to be deposed and interviewed, and I might have to testify against my father. My lawyers don't want me to say a word to you about any of this, but I can't do that. So you need to call a lawyer and get your own legal counsel. You may be deposed and questioned about all of this, too. And until this is in the papers, you can't say a word about this—to anyone."
"Did you ever suspect this?" Floored, doing everything in her power not to fall apart, she asked a question she already knew the answer to.
"Absolutely not." He sank back onto the pillow, exhausted.
Three years before, in the early stage of her business partnership with Andrew, Catherine had told him about a book called Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales. Given her upbringing—she'd been raised by a cash-strapped single mother in a small town—she had subsequently become fascinated with the topics of resilience and survival. Not only had she read dozens of other books on the subject, but she had also written a business plan for a company that built emergency plans for families in crisis. And one thing she knew about survivors from all of her reading was that survivors don't think but act. Survivors do. So in that moment, she didn't fall apart. She didn't hug him. She didn't cry, or scream about losing a life they might have had. She snapped into survival mode and focused on the most important immediate goal: How do we get to tomorrow?
The answer came to her almost immediately: curtains. She would put them up within twenty-four hours; everything else, she would deal with later.
THE DEEP SEA CLUB
Fish are found in beautiful places, without fail. Coral reefs, pristine flats in the Florida Keys, a river in Colorado, an inlet in Alaska. Andrew learned to fish at four years old, using a child-size rod and a bucket of live shrimp for bait. He and his brother stood on a Florida dock for hours, trying to hook pinfish, snapper, and blue runners. They never tired.
For as long as Andrew can remember, the family owned a sport-fishing boat. Their first was thirty feet long, purchased when he was a baby. The next, forty-two feet, was bought by Bernie in 1970, as the securities industry was emerging from one of its most robust periods of growth. The favorite, according to Andrew, was a gorgeous, hand-built, fifty-six-foot Rybovich, a wooden fishing boat that was "a work of art." The last was the Bull, an eighty-eight-foot Leopard cruiser with three staterooms, docked permanently in Cap d'Antibes, France. That was the boat the world read about day after day in the tabloid press.
On a sport-fishing boat, the physical space is small. Beds are organized in bunks; bathrooms are tiny. Water is often limited, so conservation is key. Bernie taught his boys to take a "boat shower," which, when done correctly, requires less than five gallons of water: Get in, soap down, quickly turn the water off. Everything was battened down so it wouldn't move in choppy waters. Family members packed essentials only. A sport-fishing boat, says Andrew, was efficiency at its highest level, its cramped quarters a fitting metaphor for the closeness of his family.
The family was, indeed, closer than most—and as the second and last son, Andrew completed it. Born in 1966, he grew up in Roslyn, a village on the north shore of Long Island largely populated by Reform Jews. The Madoffs were similarly nonreligious: Andrew went to Hebrew school for the shortest time he could and still get bar mitzvahed. Their home, a split-level, four-bedroom ranch built into the side of a hill on a third of an acre, reflected his parents' upward mobility. They moved in when Ruth was pregnant with Andrew and stayed until the boys graduated from high school.
Andrew remembers his childhood as idyllic: riding his Schwinn Sting Ray bike through Christopher Morley Park with his best friend, Ari; playing stickball in the street with his older brother, Mark. There was no fear of predators then, nor was there the lure of computers. Kids stayed outside until their parents called their names from their front stoops. Ruth used to ring a bell that Andrew could hear from blocks away. Sports dominated his free time. Little League baseball, hockey in the Pee Wee League, fishing in the summer in Montauk, skiing in the winter.
Andrew looked up to Mark and describes their early dynamic as typical big-brother-little-brother stuff.
"We had fun," he says, "except when I wouldn't put his dishes in the dishwasher. Then he'd chase me around the house with a hockey stick and we'd go crashing into things, breaking furniture." The two spent nearly all of their time together, playing Ping-Pong in the basement, using the garage door as a backstop for hockey and baseball. The glass in the windows was thin, and they were always breaking it. Mark was mischievously funny: As a boy he used to leave notes for the cleaning lady in his mother's hand. "Dear Clara," he would write. "Please clean out Mark's drawers. Signed, Mrs. Madoff."
- On Sale
- Oct 31, 2011
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown and Company