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While most Ponzis are based on nonexistent businesses, Madoff's brokerage operation was very real.

Rather than offer high returns to all comers, Madoff offered modest but steady returns to an exclusive clientele.

"I would be surprised if anybody thought that matching the S&P over 10 years was anything outstanding." The majority of money managers actually trailed the S&P 500 during the 1980s.

Madoff's business was one of the top market makers on Wall Street and in 2008 was the sixth-largest.

Ponzi schemes typically pay returns of 20% or higher, and collapse quickly.

One Madoff fund, which described its "strategy" as focusing on shares in the Standard & Poor's 100-stock index, reported a 10.5% annual return during the previous 17 years.

Peter has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Mark committed suicide by hanging exactly two years after his father's arrest.

Alerted by his sons, federal authorities arrested Madoff on December 11, 2008.

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