Thursday, May 2, 2013

In God We Trust

The Hot Docs film that has stimulated the most animated question period was the film In God We Trust about Bernie Madoff.  There were still hands waving in the audience when the Q&A was over.  Certainly, the movie helped solidify a view of Madoff as the monster depicted on this magazine cover.

In God We Trust starts with a wonderful computer graphics animation of buildings in New York, ominous music, and ultimately those graphic images show the building crumbling to the ground.

The movie was filmed from the point of view of Eleanor Squillari, Madoff's secretary of 25 years, who actively helped the investigators delve into the fraud.  She alleges she never suspected anything, and that the investigators took her innocence at face value, because she did not have much money (unlike others charged in the case, who actually carried out the mechanics of the fraud on the secretive 17th floor separated from the regular trading room of the firm).  Squillari believes that Madoff's two sons, who worked in the legit trading arm of the firm were unaware of the fraud and turned in their father as soon as he confessed to them.   One son later committed suicide and one is suffering from cancer, so not a happy family.

The most interesting part of the film is that it brought to light some potential new aspects of the case.  Investors were defrauded of about $65B by his Ponzi scheme.  But more than $170B had washed through the firm.  Is 'washed' the operative word?  The film raises questions whether the firm was primarily a massive money-laundering scheme which hooked in more investors to cloak its activities.  Was Madoff's quick confession, and avoidance of trial, an attempt to cover up the deeper crimes?

Nothing has been proved in that regard, but the movie presents some pretty suspicious facts, well articulated by Canada's own Diane Francis.  The biggest winner of the Madoff Ponzi scheme was one Jeffrey Picower: not only did he not lose money but he enjoyed returns ranging from over 100% to over 900%.  He was getting back more than he put in all along.

Picower died in 2009, as the investigation started to close in on him.  His wife told the emergency dispatchers he'd been found at the bottom of his pool.  Another person in the audience asked the question that I was burning to ask - did Picower commit suicide or was he murdered?  The directors answered that people who drowned floated.  Even more suspicious, when they tried to reach the coroner who performed the autopsy on Picower in Florida, he had disappeared without a trace.

The directors have not found distribution, and encouraged the audience to rate the film highly in the voting because that would help them.  No harm in asking!!!  And they want to raise people's awareness of the impotence of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, which should have protected the duped investors. There's a law in the US that would beef up SIPC and they want Americans to support that law - and Canadians too, since our own Canadian Investor Protection Fund harmonizes its regulations with the US.

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