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Bernard Madoff, the Mafia, and Naked Short Selling


Bernard L. Madoff was once the chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange. He was one of the most important market makers on Wall Street. And he managed what was, by some estimates, the largest hedge fund on the planet.

Yes, Bernard Madoff was an impressive man. That much was clear even before we learned that his $50 billion Ponzi scheme may have been orchestrated in cahoots with the most powerful, sophisticated, and indiscriminately murderous organized crime syndicate the world has ever known.

Charles Gasparino (citing “speculation” from investigators) reported last week on CNBC that the Russian Mafia might have been partners in Madoff’s larcenous fund business. Or perhaps the Mob had an even greater interest in Madoff’s market making operation, as some of our sources have told us in recent weeks.

Either way, there is a certain cachet.

But it wasn’t just pierogies and pistol-packing wiseguys in purple suits. Mr. Madoff was also a dedicated public servant, volunteering countless hours at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Indeed, Madoff seems to have helped write some of the SEC’s rules. For example, Madoff had a good deal of input an SEC rule that exempted market makers (i.e. Madoff) from various regulations governing short sellers (i.e. Madoff’s friends).

Madoff’s rule ensured that market makers (Madoff) could, among other things, engage in so-called “naked short selling.” To sell “naked” is to sell stock that one does not actually possess. That is “phantom stock,” according to the SEC Chairman and many others.

Sometimes, short sellers (who profit when shares lose value) offload massive amounts of phantom stock to drive down prices, destroy pubic companies, or even crash the market. That is why there used to be restrictions.

Madoff also obtained an exemption allowing market makers to sell short on a down tick, which made it easier for unscrupulous hedge funds to drive down stock prices.

At any rate, I don’t think Madoff had an office at the SEC. He certainly was not employed there. But the SEC was glad to have Madoff write a rule exempting Madoff from the rules. The SEC was so thankful that it named one of its rules after the great man himself.

The rule allowing market markers to sell on the downtick was called, “The Madoff Exception.”

After Madoff helped writet the rule, market makers (e.g., Madoff) proceeded to “rent” their exemptions to hedge funds (i.e. friends-of-Madoff).

It remained against the law for hedge funds to sell phantom stock to manipulate the markets. It was also against the law for market makers to help hedge funds orchestrate such schemes. But under the Madoff regulatory regime, unscrupulous short sellers (i.e. friends-of-Madoff) could engage in this illegal activity so long as they did so with the illegal connivance of a law-breaking market maker (i.e. Madoff).

A few months ago, this naked short selling was implicated–by numerous academics, the U.S. Chamber of Chamber of Commerce, the Secretary of the Treasury, the CEOs of Wall Street’s biggest banks, respected law firms, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and numerous congressmen – in the near total collapse of the American financial system.

The SEC has not prosecuted anybody for this. After all, there is an “exception.”

It is unclear whether the SEC will continue to name this “exception” after a man who might have absconded with 50 billion dollars (a sum that exceeds the gross domestic product of Pakistan) in league with the Russian Mob, an organization that is said to be in the market for a nuclear bomb – in addition to narcotics, sex slaves and, yes, phantom stock.

In any case, the major news organizations seem to have lost interest.

* * * * * * * *

Mark Mitchell is a reporter for DeepCapture.com. He previously worked as an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal in Europe, chief business correspondent for Time magazine in Asia, and as an assistant managing editor responsible for the Columbia Journalism Review’s online critique of business journalism. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

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