Bernie Madoff talks! And talks and talks and talks

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Between his admission to FBI agents in December that he’d been running a Ponzi scheme and his sentencing for his crimes last month, Bernie Madoff didn’t say much—at least not where any of us could hear him. Now that he’s in prison for several lifetimes, though, he’s turned chatty. Attorneys Joe Cotchett and Nancy Fineman—who represent several Madoff victims—got in to see the man yesterday in prison in North Carolina and talked to him for almost five hours.

What did he tell them? The Raleigh News & Observer reports:

“He was very candid with us and very remorseful, and he gave us a lot of information,” Cotchett said in a news conference after the interview. “He spelled out how the fraud was committed and when it started.”

Although some have speculated that the fraud began as early as the 1970s, Madoff told the lawyers that he didn’t start the scheme until the mid-1990s.

That’s interesting. I had guessed a while back that the start date was probably 2001, so I wasn’t that far off—unless Madoff is still lying. Once the fraud had begun, Madoff kept thinking the Feds were going to catch up with him. Here’s a Cotchett quote from Good Morning America:

I was dumbfounded at some of the instances where he told me and Nancy, in front of his lawyer, that he visited with SEC and there were times when he thought, “They got me.”

Cotchett said Madoff had agreed to meet with him in hopes of heading off legal action against several of his family members. He cleared his wife, Ruth. As for his two sons, who turned him in, there are conflicting reports. The News & Observer says Cotchett is now considering dropping them from his suit, based on what Madoff said, while ABC reports that Cotchett said “he doesn’t give a —- about his two sons.” Whatever.

Finally, Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle actually fed a few questions to Cotchett (whose firm is based in the SF suburb of Burlingame). Here’s a couple of them:

How did Madoff fool so many people for so long? “He said he did it essentially with a lot of smoke and mirrors,” Cotchett said. “No one bothered to ask simple questions. People foolishly – including accountants and regulators – never looked in the right places.”

What led him to turn himself in? When he essentially ran out of money, Cotchett said Madoff told him. “There were too many redemptions. He didn’t have enough money to cover the redemptions,” Cotchett said.