Take that smug smile off Madoff now

Today prosecutors will make their case that Bernard Madoff should be jailed for violation of bail conditions. On Christmas Eve he mailed out trinkets worth more than $1 million to family members. His defense lawyer says Madoff had no idea he was doing anything wrong and that these items were sentimental. Prosecutors argue his act shows he will try to hide assets as long as he is not incarcerated.

Even if Madoff goes to jail today, he still doesn’t face indictment for at least another 30 days. The grand jury has been given an extension to deliberate – and some of us are baffled as to why. Madoff has signed a confession admitting to carrying out a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Why the delay?

Perhaps prosecutors hope that the longer they dangle a carrot, the more they will learn to help them nail the case. Maybe Madoff will be persuaded to sing about possible co-conspirators. Once he’s indicted, flexibility to negotiate becomes more limited.

But the court of public opinion is not privy to the behind-the-scenes negotiations, and it is impatient. We still remember the recent prosecution of Samuel Israel III, the mastermind of a $300 million Ponzi scheme. Israel was bailed for $500,000 and then faked his own suicide before finally turning himself in.

Furthermore, yesterday brought shocking reports that among Madoff’s victims was his own sister, Sondra, 74, who has had to put her Florida home on the market. My sources tell me that she is not selling because of financial distress caused by her brother. Rather her neighbors are making life “uncomfortable” for her. “The name Madoff is not a great name to have right now,” says a Florida businessman.

If that’s how neighbors feel about Madoff’s sister, it’s small wonder most of us are infuriated to see images of him walking near his apartment with that smug, quizzical smile on his face.

But what’s he got to smile about? If he thinks he’s taught the world that he was cleverer than all of us, or that money shouldn’t matter, he hasn’t. All he’s done is remind us of something articulated by Shakespeare hundreds of years ago – namely that: “One may smile and smile and be a villain.” V

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