Bernard Madoff, the convicted Ponzi schemer currently serving a 150-year sentence at a medium-security prison in Butner, N.C., doesn’t much mind his surroundings. “It’s actually very pretty,” he told Politico reporter MJ Lee in a three-hour interview last week, likening the prison to a college campus.
The interview, which was published today, offers insight into Madoff’s life behind bars, as well as his health and state of mind. He’s being treated for kidney disease (but not cancer, he maintains, as has been reported), and had a stent implanted after a heart attack late last year.
“I’m on so much medication — heart, kidney blood pressure,” he said. “I never took a pill before I came here. Anxiety medication. I must take 14 different meds every day.”
Madoff visits a psychiatrist once a week, but said that those those sessions have done little to prevent him from reliving the pain he’s inflicted on his family. “I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent with the psychiatrist — to try to make some sort of peace with myself, to understand how I did it,” he said. “I’d like to believe that there was something mentally wrong with me. It would make me feel better.”
His mindset, though, remains troubling. While seemingly contrite over his behavior—five years ago he admitted to running the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, swindling friends, clients, and organizations out of more than $20 billion—he claimed during the interview that he was responsible for efforts to recover the funds after his arrest, arguing that Irving Picard, the trustee tasked with managing the recovery and distribution of the lost investments, was trying to take all the credit. Even if he were involved in those efforts (which Politico says Picard’s office denied), the decent thing would seem to be to keep his name far away from it. That he would insist on credit or some sort of public goodwill reveals him to be as narcissistic and out of touch as he was five years ago.
His penitent attitude is also less nuanced than it may first appear. Asked how he felt about the specific impact his fraud had on the Jewish community, both for the individuals and organizations that invested with him—many of which still haven’t recovered—Madoff maintained his tribal innocence, insisting that his good deeds outweighed his transgressions.
“I don’t feel any worse for a Jewish person than I do for a Catholic person,” he said. “Religion had nothing to do with it.”
Pressed on the issue he said: “I don’t feel that I betrayed the Jews, I betrayed people,” before adding, “I betrayed people that put trust in me — certainly the Jewish community. I’ve made more money for Jewish people and charities than I’ve lost.”
You can read the full interview here.
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.