By the time Bernie Madoff was arrested in December 2008, Harry Markopolos had been trying for years to expose his investment firm as a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Starting in the spring of 2000, the Boston-based securities analyst began approaching the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with proof that the former NASDAQ chairman was perpetrating a mammoth fraud on investors.

It took mathematical brainiac Markopolos less than five minutes of statistical analysis to figure out there was something fishy about Madoff’s astronomical performance charts. Yet, the federal watchdog agency charged with protecting the public declined to investigate, ostensibly because Bernie was such a prominent and well-respected figure in the financial services industry.

Not one to be dissuaded easily, Markopolos reiterated his request to the SEC the following year, and again in 2003, with each inquiry falling on deaf ears. Because the incriminating evidence he provided essentially amounted to an open and shut case, he realized the government might be deliberately looking the other way.

He then tried to interest business-oriented media outlets, like Forbes magazine and The Wall Street Journal, into taking a look at the file, but the incendiary story was killed in every case. Even hand-delivering a copy to then New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a fearless, Wall Street white-collar crime-fighter, proved futile.

Meanwhile Madoff was well aware he had a formidable enemy in this lone whistleblower whose testimony, if believed, would bring down his illegal operation.

Thus, it gradually dawned on an increasingly-paranoid Markopolos that his life was in danger, since Bernie was likely in league with mobsters capable of carrying out a hit. He purchased a pistol to protect himself and his family, instructing his wife to fire from the top of the stairs until the gun was empty, should an intruder ever enter the house while she was home alone.

So unfolds Chasing Madoff, an eye-opening documentary exposing the SEC as an inept outfit, at best, and as thoroughly corrupt, at worst. Given that the lead attorney assigned the Madoff case left the regulatory agency to marry Bernie’s niece and that powerful cronies in high places were running interference for him every step of the way, it’s no surprise that his politically-protected Ponzi scheme only crumbled when the unsustainable house of cards collapsed of its own weight.

A fascinating account of an unassuming hero’s harrowing ordeal during a futile, decade-long effort to bring the truth about Bernie Madoff to light.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Distributor: MPI Home Video
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary; deleted scenes; altern


Kam Williams

Special to the AFRO