|Last Friday evening, not long after my wife and I put our kids to bed, I sank into the sofa in our TV room and flipped to Netflix’s new limited series, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street, on which I’d been making feverish progress during the previous days. The show was generally fantastic (minus the bizarre dramatic re-enactments of a fictionalized Bernie roaming around the 17th floor of the Lipstick Building) and illuminated the scandal in new, mesmerizing ways.
All these years later, with the benefit of reflection, it helped underscore just how credulous we’d all been while Madoff was building his hoax in broad daylight. Madoff, after all, operated in so many peculiar ways: he never pitched his business; he refused digital access to accounts; his executive team seemed comprised of former Staten Island car salesmen; many of the largest Wall Street banks refused to do business with him; his L.P.s derived largely from outside traditional finance. And, of course, the returns were literally too good to be true. Yet no one besides the whistleblower Harry Markopolos—not the S.E.C., Madoff’s family, or his oldest clients—raised a finger until it was too late.
Then, at 8:51 p.m., I looked down at my phone and eyed some inbound emails and Slack messages and, in particular, one text from Teddy Schleifer to myself and Ben Landy, Puck’s executive editor. “Currently in an Uber to see SBF,” it read.
Instantly, I excused myself and walked off into the kitchen to call Teddy. In a hushed tone from the back of the Uber, he explained that he and Sam Bankman-Fried, the former crypto prince who was recently charged with eight counts of what prosecutors have called “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history,” had been exchanging text messages. In the course of their back and forth, Teddy asked if he could visit S.B.F., who is currently in home confinement at his parents’ $4 million Palo Alto ranch house as part of his $250 million bail agreement. S.B.F., presumably lonely and a little stir crazy, consented. He seemed eager for the company. We spoke as Teddy rode down the peninsula from his WeWork in San Francisco.
S.B.F. has hardly been a shrinking violet since FTX crashed. He’s given numerous media interviews, both accepting blame for losing his investors’ money while also proclaiming his innocence and asserting that the allegations against him are untrue—that his misdeeds were mistakes but not crimes, that he wasn’t some mop-headed Madoff but a scattered and overburdened neophyte. The assertions seemed to provide some form of therapy.
As we chatted, Teddy and I wondered aloud about what S.B.F.’s life was like when he wasn’t defending himself by writing threads on Twitter or speaking to Andrew Sorkin over Zoom. For what it’s worth, I always got the sense that S.B.F. fell into that group of former lonely kid founders who had leveraged their financial success to acquire friends and adulation in early adulthood. While the C.E.O. of FTX, Bankman-Fried put his logo on the Miami Heat’s arena, paid Larry David to be in his commercial, rubbed shoulders with Tom Brady and Gisele, and convinced the Democratic Party that he was the George Soros of his generation. Perhaps more notably, he lived and worked for a time in a veritable 8-figure apartment kibbutz at a luxury development in the Bahamas. He was the center of it all. Until he wasn’t.
In his new life, roaming around the house that he grew up in, I assumed that he would be bored and lonely, and maybe more than a little afraid, too, no matter how much he declared his innocence. I couldn’t help but hear the late Ray Liotta utter the final egg-noodles-and-ketchup soliloquy from Goodfellas, in which he recounts the highs of his life before lamenting, And now it’s all over…
Earlier this week, we published Teddy’s stunning, searing, compassionate, and critical piece about S.B.F. under home confinement, The Only Living Boy in Palo Alto. During the course of their nearly three hour conversation at the long wooden table in the Bankman-Frieds’ airy ‘90s-style kitchen, S.B.F. discussed that loneliness and isolation, but also insinuated a strange confidence that he could somehow return customers’ money and make FTX whole. Indeed, it’s a remarkable portrait of one of the characters of our time in the throes of crisis, and it captures as much about our former cultural idols as the culture itself. Indeed, I’d recommend that you halt your weekend plans until you have a chance to read it. It’s precisely the sort of story that you can only find at Puck.
Have a great weekend,