Renowned journalist, author, tells story behind Wall Street’s most notorious fraudster

Diana Henriques discusses impact and lessons from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme

Diana Henriques. Photo courtesy of W&L.

Diana Henriques. Photo courtesy of W&L.

Maya Lora

by Maya Lora

Acclaimed New York Times financial reporter and author Diana Henriques visited Washington and Lee last week to discuss her research into the Bernie Madoff scandal that became a book and will soon become a star-studed film.

She spoke in Stackhouse Theater on Thursday evening and signed copies of her book following the event.

“The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust,” the product of Henriques’ reporting, was published in 2011 and tells the story of the corrupt investor who conducted a Ponzi scheme worth $65 billion, which shocked Wall Street and is believed to be the largest fraud by an individual in U.S. history.

Henriques spoke about the lessons she learned from conducting exclusive interviews with Madoff in prison.

She said that more interesting than understanding the logistics of the scam itself was the deep realization that people who seem trustworthy can actually be multi-faced.

“[Madoff] was a quiet spoken, low-key guy who hated parties,” Henriques said. “If his wife forced him to go, he’d sit in the corner with a Diet Coke.”

But Henriques also labeled Madoff a “sociopath,” which she said made for fun but sometimes risky interviews. She advised that journalists be extra alert when interviewing people like Madoff to avoid getting swept up in charm and potential lies.

The story seemed to resonate with students in the audience.

“Her statements on sociopaths [were] my favorite part because I hadn’t really thought of them in that sense before, and she did a great job talking about it in terms that everyone could relate to and understand right away,” said Robert Griffin, ’20.

Hannah Denham, ‘20, agreed.

“I liked the way she applied the values of corporate transparency to everyday honesty in relationships and the workplace,” she said.

Henriques said she decided to turn her reporting on Madoff into a full book because the further she investi- gated, the more she realized that this was a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions that went far beyond the confines of Wall Street.

Henriques said two investors who had invested with Madoff committed suicide after the fraud was revealed and both of Madoff’s two sons died – one from suicide and the other from cancer.

HBO acquired the movie rights to the bestselling book, with a film set to premiere this spring starring Robert de Niro as Madoff, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Madoff’s wife, Ruth. Henriques said she will be playing herself in the movie.

Henriques also has a new book coming out next year. The current working title is “The Wasted Crisis,” and it covers the lessons to be learned from Black Monday, one of the worst financial crises in Wall Street history.