Froma Harrop | Madoff’s Saddest Victim

Bernard Madoff went to jail for his stupendous financial con. His eldest son, Mark, has gone to oblivion, having hung himself from a dog leash on the second anniversary of his father’s outing as perpetrator of a $20 billion con.

Let us grieve awhile for a 47-year-old father of two who dramatically killed himself during this so-called season of joy. Mark Madoff had no angel Clarence — as George Bailey had in “It’s a Wonderful Life” — to show him that his financial reversals did not make him worthless; that he had a loving family which depended on him. Mark’s family was his tormenter.

One doesn’t know the extent of Mark’s complicity in his father’s fraud. The sons insist they knew nothing of it. Mark and his brother ran the legitimate trading arm of the Madoff business, which was separate from the father’s crooked investment scheme.

The sons reportedly haven’t spoken with either parent since the scandal broke open. Before his death, a family spokesman said that “Mark remains unalterably bitter about his father’s deception and the injury his father has caused.”

Whatever the case, a desire for revenge must have also driven Mark’s carefully timed self-destruction. It is often said that suicide is anger turned 180 degrees. Mark may have wanted to exact the ultimate pain on his father. Sadly, one can’t be sure that Bernie Madoff had feelings to be hurt.

Mark’s brother, Andrew, on the other hand, had been toughened up by his struggle with lymphoma. He had confronted a far more formidable foe than the loss of fortune and face.

A discussion of betrayal, illness and death must include the tragedy of Elizabeth Edwards. She did not die unexpectedly — her aggressive breast cancer had been spreading. But one can imagine that the tabloid coverage of her husband’s crude infidelities had made her last days especially miserable.

Like Madoff, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards double-dealt both inside and outside his family circle. He pursued his sloppy affair as thousands were putting their money, sweat and faith into his campaign for president. (Suppose he had become the Democratic nominee, and then the vulgar details emerged.)
Making the Edwards story tawdrier still was his use of Elizabeth’s illness during the campaign to portray their troubled marriage as a romantic fairy tale.

Elizabeth has said that she knew about the affair during the campaign, which made her complicit in the charade. Was it family loyalty of a complicated political kind? One thing is clear: She handled her physical and emotional pain with enormous grace.

Back at the Madoff drama, the victims are seeking restitution from the sons and their children, as well. The Nantucket house that Mark and his wife bought for $6.5 million shortly before Bernie’s arrest is on the market.

But the sorrow caused by treachery is never all about money. Mark’s college buddies had put their savings into the crooked Madoff investments, so these friends are gone. Mark had been trying without success to get another job. No one would touch him. And he was said to be “distraught” over suggestions that he was part of the fraud.

While Andrew’s chief interests had moved to a foundation involved in lymphoma research, Mark was made the face of the Madoff enterprises. When some questioned the source of the enormous returns on Madoff investments, Mark was given the job of publicly defending the company. We may never learn all he knew, but there is little doubt that his father used him.

Like other Madoff victims, Mark lost money. Unlike them, he suffered the cruelest form of betrayal. He was his father’s saddest victim.

Copyright 2010 The Providence Journal Co.

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