Madoff to Plead Guilty: Is This Justice?

by: Benjamin Taylor


click here for video

The AP reported yesterday that Bernie Madoff will plead guilty to 11 criminal counts including money laundering, perjury and securities, mail and wire fraud and will do so without a plea deal, knowing it carries a potential prison term of 150 years. I find it kind of odd that Madoff would choose not to try and get a plea deal. But just another thing in an odd set of circumstances.

Adding to the weirdness is Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, and his family were investors with Madoff and lost nearly $1,000,000. Is Sorkin the best to represent Madoff? I know most out there don't really care about this potential conflict in interest. But I will always be a believer that everyone (even accussed money launderers) should be properly represented in court.

I have no idea if this is justice. Madoff seems to have stolen people's trust as much as he's stolen their money (now a reported $20 billion instead of the $50 billion first thought). More and more investors are going the do-it-yourself route because their trust has eroded. The tragedy is most investors going this route will fail. The most comprehensive study on the subject of individual investor performance was conducted by Professors Brad Barber and Terrence Odean. They found:

Of 66,465 households with accounts at a large discount broker during 1991 to 1996... After accounting for the fact that the average household tilts its common stock investments toward small value stocks with high market risk… …the underperformance of average individual investor household is 3.7 percent annually.

The average household turns over approximately 75 percent of its common stock portfolio annually. The poor performance of the average household can be traced to the costs associated with this high level of trading.... Our most dramatic empirical evidence is provided by the 20 percent of households that trade the most often [with a turnover of 115%]… …the underperformance of hyper trading households averages 7.6 percent annually.

While prosecutors have recovered about $1 billion for investors so far, how can they recover the trust that was lost? Not an easy question to answer. For our part, we will, over the next couple of days, get back to going through the10 red flags for spotting financial crooks. In the meantime check out parts one and two.

Disclosure: none