They say great crimes never stay unpunished. It is now hard to predict the sentence possibly faced by Bob Madoff right now, pleading guilty to eleven charges of fraud, in the biggest Ponzi scheme ever operated. The 70-year-old professional money launderer is now about to contemplate a possible 150 years sentence. Whatever the outcome, the brain behind the collapse of capitalism will end his life in jail.

Bob Madoff: he worked hard for the money.

Bob Madoff: he worked hard for the money.

Let’s face it, that life wasn’t too hard on Madoff, who managed to post a $1 million bail and closed on his $7 million Manhattan apartment when he heard justice was finally there to collect him. Showing a politically correct remorse, he seems to surrender to fate, or more likely, to the desperate and justifiably angry hands of his victims, whose lives he destroyed, sending them in a spiral of debt and corruption. “I thought it would end quickly, but it proved impossible”, he said,  as we can all imagine. Or maybe not, since hardly any of us could claim a six-digit monthly paycheck. “I am ashamed for these criminal acts. I always knew this day would come.”

A Ponzi scheme occurs when an investor pays the shareholders with the money other investors have just given him, instead of using benefits. It is unclear how much money Madoff has exactly managed to put aside for his own enjoyement, as “only” $650 million have been retrieved so far. The rest is supposed to be laying dormant in fiscal paradises all over the world – from Switzerland to Luxemburg, accused by the European Union today to refuse to comply with the new laws on bank transparency. Madoff could have become the biggest criminal of our time, the successor of legendary Capones, but his crime is coming at a time when regular investors and shareholders need support and reliability, as the world is crumbling under the weight of the subprime crisis. Madoff has run away from the nation’s money when the nation needed it the most. Friedman, an accountant who lost over $3 million to Maddoff, told CNN Money: “The crime is really unimaginable. It’s not just a typical Ponzi scheme. It affects society as a whole. You don’t just have to be a Madoff investor to be affected by this.”

However, putting Madoff on trial, as cathartic as it may be, is only going to open the heavy and controversial Pandora box that the financial system represented. Not only did Madoff not act alone, he also succeeded in doing so for so long because no security system ever detected the flaw in his transactions.  An investor, who lost $700,000 in the Ponzi scheme, is turning his head towards the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for either being reckless or turning a blind eye on Madoff’s crazy cruise:  “We’re not just the victims of Madoff; we’re the victims of the incompetence and irresponsibility of the SEC!” Put it simply, it is not just a man facing charges of evasion, abuse, thievery, and other countless felony and abuses of trust – it is the entire banking system that failed to provide security and transparency to their clients, leaving them to either participate in fraud, or lose all their assets, including mortgages and life insurances, on which their entire lives are built. Madoff is not just one giant fraud covered in fake tan who got lucky for way too long – he also represents everything the system have been doing wrong for several decades, and is emblematic of the free pass many banks and insurance companies have been given in the name of free trade.

Harry Markopolos, the Boston accountant who first waved the red flag when checking out Madoff’s accounts, is also appalled and shocked by the SEC’s complete lack of reaction. “I gift-wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to them and somehow they couldn’t be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper investigation”. Who’s the real culprit here? Who should be sitting in the defendant’s seat next to Madoff? Is there a government responsability to engage when one Commission charged with regulating people’s money is turning the other cheek to the biggest Italian job in history? The former SEC chair, Chris Cox, recently resigned under strong criticism – but it will take more than a new leader (Mary Shapiro) to take onto the complete overhaul necessary to rebuild the trust in investors and jumpstart trading again. Once trust has been violated – especially in the extent to which it was repeatedly abuse under Madoff’s omnipotent rule – it is hard to retrieve. This time, capitalism needs to learn its lesson, and it needs to do it fast. People are out for blood and won’t stop just because Madoff has been deprived of his liberty until he stops breathing.

Raise your minimum rage, as Markopolos has reportedly alerted Shapiro of two new fraud cases.

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