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Big Hat . . . No Cattle
Over the past few months I have read countless stories about Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford and the Ponzi schemes they ran over the past decade.  The term "Ponzi Scheme" is a catchall for paying returns to investors not through actual investment gains, but from capital raised from other investors . . . sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  In every market downturn like the one we are currently experiencing, there will be blow ups at investment-related firms from investment banks, to hedge funds, to private equity funds . . . shareholder capital and life savings will be lost, and reputations will be tarnished forever.  However, I must say, the amount of capital stolen or squandered - $50 billion and $8 billion for Madoff and Stanford, respectively, is pretty staggering.  The media and the investment communities have focused on the details of "how" and "why" Madoff and Stanford orchestrated these schemes. 

The common thread amongst Madoff, Standford and Charles Ponzi ("Ponzi Scheme" was named for him) is (i) they all offered returns to investors that were higher than the competition's and seemingly too good to be true, (ii) they had outsized reputations for business acument and (iii) they "looked the part."  Corporate swindlers succeed because they have what is known as "executive presence" and prey on corporations' penchant for looking only at the surface of things.  In fact, some clients and investors had the impression that Madoff could walk on water, though they had never actually seen him do it.  Yet the reality is that the guy hadn't even purchased a security in the past 13 years.  Their outsized reputations also allow them to intimidate and and stonewall auditors and potential whistleblowers who could have divulged their schemes years earlier. 

I recently read that the government has hired a new head of the SEC who is charged with applying stronger oversight of investment firms.  Good luck with that.  Big Hat ... No Cattles within Corporate America are almost impossible to detect because not only do they fit in, but they have a web of supporters and enablers tied to their success.  The biggest deterrent to crime is not the punishment, but the odds of getting caught.  There are other Madoffs and Stanfords within our midst as you read this.  However, nobody's watching.  (Photo below from AP/Andres Leighton).

Stanford Bank customers in Antigua panick after being denied their deposits


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