Hero of Wall Street visits Whitman-Hanson high school
The FBI wants his advice, publishers are seeking to put out his book and Hollywood producers are vying to make his movie.
For Whitman resident Harry Markopolos, who spent a decade trying to expose Wall Street fraud Bernard Madoff, being in high demand has become the norm. Already he’s given high-profile testimony before Congress and been featured as a lead story on “60 Minutes.”
But the 52-year-old father of three concedes that ultimately, his efforts may have been a failure.
Madoff was never investigated; he was exposed when financial markets plummeted last fall. He is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to fraud and perjury.
Despite being called a hero by many, Markopolos wonders if he really should have tried so hard to expose Madoff, a powerful Wall Street money manager who Markopolos believes had ties to the Russian mafia and Latin American drug cartels.
“There’s a fine line between bravery and foolishness. I think that, my team and I, we probably crossed that line on more than one occasion,” Markopolos said during an interview with The Enterprise on Friday. “We probably took some risks that were above and beyond the call.”
Despite his frantic schedule — which includes ongoing investigations into five other potential frauds — Markopolos made time Friday to speak to students at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School in conjunction with national “Law Day.”
During his hour-long talk with students in the performing arts center, during which he took questions, Markopolos gave a blow-by-blow account of his efforts to uncover Madoff’s fraudulent scheme.
Afterward, Markopolos sat down with The Enterprise for a half-hour interview about his quest to expose Madoff.
For many years, he said, he feared for his family’s safety as he and three associates investigated Madoff.
“It had a happy ending for us. It could’ve gone the other way,” he said. “Maybe we kept going too long. Maybe we should’ve thought more about what we were doing.”
Despite a decade-long investigation and numerous, credible allegations made by Markopolos, Madoff was never caught by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Madoff turned himself in last December after the stock market plummeted, revealing that he had been running a Ponzi scheme.
Markopolos puts the fraud at $65 billion and says it has cost at least two lives, businessmen who committed suicide. One was his friend, Markopolos said.
For now, Markopolos is focused on his independent financial fraud practice, which is currently investigating frauds involving Medicare and Wall Street — “five more cases you’ve yet to hear about,” he said.
He is also seeking to help heal the financial system, meeting next week with the FBI and monitoring whether the SEC is implementing his suggestions for preventing future frauds of the Madoff kind.
Not to mention the time he spends fielding calls from movie producers in Hollywood, among others.
“All the movie people are hounding me, and I’ve put them off. I just want to get the book started, which we did this week,” Markopolos said.
Ultimately, though, Markopolos says he isn’t totally comfortable with his new notoriety.
“I had a really good life before Madoff turned himself in,” he said. “If I could go back to that, I would.”
Enterprise writer Kyle Alspach can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.