The Worst of the Madoff Crimes

Stephanie and Mark Madoff with their children, Nick and Audrey on Halloween 2009. Inset: Bernie Madoff. Courtesy of Stephanie Madoff Mack; Justin Lane / EPA-Corbis (inset)

As he pitched himself into eternity with a noose fashioned from a dog leash, 46-year-old Mark Madoff was being pursued by lawyers who aggressively doubted his protestations of innocence. They were convinced he had enriched himself through his father’s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, and the bankruptcy trustee delegated to return the stolen billions to Bernie Madoff’s victims had filed a lawsuit seeking $66,607,111 that Mark had allegedly “received improperly,” including money in his children’s names.

The most damning allegation in the stingingly persuasive suit filed by trustee Irving Picard concerns an investment account into which Mark apparently placed not a penny, yet reaped $14,607,966 in “profits” from “fictitious and backdated trading.” Mark also retained numerous properties purchased with company funds via “loans” that apparently required no payments: a $6.5 million oceanfront house in Nantucket, Mass., a $2.2 million house in Greenwich, Conn., and the $5.5 million SoHo apartment where he took his life on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. His wife, Stephanie, was away with their 4-year-old daughter, Audrey, in Disney World at the time. Their 2-year-old son, Nicholas, was dozing in the nursery just a few steps from where Mark sought to hang himself. First he tried using the power cord from the vacuum cleaner. It broke. Then he tried their Labradoodle’s leash.

In her new book, The End of Normal, Stephanie writes of the last words she received from her husband: a text sent at 4:14 a.m. that said, “I love you.” Now she repeatedly wakes at 3:51 a.m. and gazes at the clock, “silently counting off the same 23 minutes night after night, waiting for my husband to kill himself.”

“Watching the minutes tick by, my mind conjured every horrific detail,” she writes. “How high up was he, what was he wearing, was it quick, did it hurt, was he crying? I put my hands around my own throat and squeeze.”

Stephanie Madoff Mack, having dropped her husband’s stigmatizing surname, though retaining it as a marketable middle name on the book jacket, describes her husband as an innocent man—a profoundly devoted father so monumentally betrayed by his own father, and so relentlessly pursued by a heartless press, that he was finally driven to hang himself from the same steel beam where he had hung the piñata for his daughter’s birthday party just a month before. She joins her dead husband’s lawyer in dismissing as “entirely baseless” the suit that contends Mark “turned two blind eyes” to the biggest theft in American history. The Mark Madoff of her book is so blinded by admiration for his father that he did not suspect anything.

Some of us find Mark’s total innocence difficult to accept, despite the sympathetic media spin accompanying the book’s release. But the wrenching magic of these pages is that it ultimately matters little what the son knew or did not know of the father’s sins. How Mark acquired the SoHo apartment becomes incidental when Audrey “goes to the huge windows overlooking Mercer Street and shouts greetings to the sky, confident that her father can hear her. ‘I love you, I miss you, I kiss you, I squeeze you!’” She is learning to write when she asks how to spell “die.” “It was the first verb she learned to write,” the book reports. “Daddy Die she labels everything.”

On an earlier page, the book says Mark could be “wallowing in self-pity and anger” over the case, “then calmly get up when it was time to bathe the kids, put a towel over his head, and lose himself in their giggles as he roared, ‘The Towel Monster is going to get you!’” Then there is the sad aftermath: “The black box containing his ashes was in a Whole Foods tote in the hallway ... alongside the new vacuum cleaner my mother had brought to replace the one with the gruesomely snapped cord.”

Stephanie notes that two of Bernie Madoff’s victims also committed suicide. Even if her husband was not as blameless as she believes, she would not be wrong in counting him as a third victim in what were Bernie Madoff’s worst crimes.