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No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller Hardcover – March 2, 2010
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Since Harry includes a verbatim copy of what he sent to the SEC in 2005, you can see why the SEC staff didn't take him seriously - he is pompous and verbose and mixes factual realities with strange claims that border on paranoia. He actually does slip over into paranoia a few times, describing his supposed likelihood of being harmed (he carried a weapon, apparently for years) for what he knew even after what he knew had been published and shared with others.
Ah, but the subject matter. Such juicy, real, important subject matter. How Bernie Madoff created the biggest hedge fund in the world, and maintained it as a Ponzi scheme for 20+ years. Doing it where everyone including Harry could see it. And,in fact, no one would listen. I think Harry does capture the incredible seduction that this financial scheme had and the simplicity of the smoke screen that Madoff used. I was also intrigued by the separation of the people who fell for it and those who did not. For example, Goldman and Morgan had no money in this, the best performing fund in the world.
So I read every word and appreciated them. And wished that his 80 page diatribe against the SEC had been edited to two paragraphs. The entire book would have made a great Atlantic long-form article. Kudos to Harry for writing it. If you like the subject matter and can filter the attitude, there is no substitute for this kind of first-hand account.
In the book, young innocent David is portrayed as a "wildly eccentric quant" from Boston named Harry Markopolos who tried to defend his country from the nine feet tall Philistine giant Goliath, portrayed as Bernie Madoff. King Saul of Israel and his army (the SEC) were terrified of Goliath. "No One Would Listen" is a 10-year firsthand account of how Harry and his three friends tried to warn the government, the industry, and the press that the founder of the most successful broker-dealers in the financial industry was actually the biggest crook in history. Unfortunately, "No One Would Listen" does not have the same happy ending as the biblical David v. Goliath battle.
For the past few days, I have been reading reviews on the book and found a lot of derogatory comments about Harry's character and his book. I have to wonder to myself if these reporters read the same book that I did and why they would want to tag their name with such unsubstantiated assertions. Before I continue on the book, I have to point out some false information printed by some media outlets. These book reviews only reconfirm the financial mediocrity in the press that Harry and his team had to deal with the past 10 years - that is why no one would listen.
First, we know that in its 73 years of existence, the SEC has a history of treating whistleblowers like dirt and has only paid 2 whistleblower bounties. One reward, as told in the book, was in the amount of $3,500. I'm sick and tired of people throwing that Harry only went to the SEC because he was looking for a bounty. He knew from the start that his chance of receiving a bounty was remote. Even if he did receive a bounty, is $3,500 worth hundreds of hours of investigative research while he was most likely making a comfortable 6-figure salary at his previous employment?
Second, some reporters claimed that the reason why no one would listen is because Harry is some sort of nut that rubbed the SEC the wrong way and that he was overly paranoid for fearing that Madoff may come after him. One only has to watch Harry's Feb. 4, 2009 testimony to Congress to confirm this man's articulate manner and brilliance. Do your research on his background, and you will see how aware people are of his talents and credibility. The reason why no one would listen is because the fraud was so unbelievable - Bernie Madoff was filthy rich, why would he need to steal? The second reason, as the world now knows, is due to the arrogance and investigative ineptitude of the SEC and the press. In addressing his fear for Madoff, why wouldn't he fear Madoff? People have killed for much less. There are pending investigations with the FBI undisclosed to the public. Why would the FBI announce to the bad guys that they're about to be investigated, unlike the SEC, who called Madoff to give him a heads up on the 2006 investigation.
Third, a major media outlet criticized how Harry had made a career of being "a professional whistleblower facilitator," turning corporate employees into spies when they should be reporting problems internally. After the collapse of Enron, the SEC was charged with reviewing incidents of financial statement fraud from 1997 to 2002. Of the 515 enforcement actions for financial reporting and disclosure fraud, charges were brought against 466 managers: 75 chairmen of the board, 111 CEOs, 111 presidents, 105 CFOs, 21 COOs, 16 CAOs, and 27 VPs of finance. You tell me how a lonely staff member at the bottom of the totem pole would come up against these big honchos.
Throughout the book, if I was not cracking up laughing at Harry's oddball sense of humor, I was pounding my fist from mortification at the horrors that Harry and his team had witnessed the past 10 years. "No One Would Listen" is a reflection of the culture of greed infected on Wall Street. One event that stuck to my mind was Neil Chelo's phone interview with the head of risk management at Fairfield Greenwich Sentry Fund in Chapter 7. I was completely appalled that he could not answer any of Neil's questions on how Madoff was getting his returns, why he was always holding T-bills at year end, and why the audits only show $160MM worth of T-bills on a $1.47BB portfolio. Where did the remaining $1.31BB go? This is the same egghead that manages the risk of a $7BB fund. It was absurd how he had the gall to follow up with Neil if he still wanted to invest with the fund even after Neil had called him out for an hour straight.
Another event that had me almost vomiting was regarding 20 market-timing scandals that Harry had worked on for 1.5 years and eventually presented to the SEC. The scandals cost investors $20BB, yet the SEC decided that they were done with market timing scandals so the crooks all walked away scotch-free. Keep in mind that this all happened after Peter Scannell already testified against the SEC on how the agency missed the market timing scandal at Putnam Investments even with his repeated warnings. Our tax dollars at work. And we wonder why our country is in the midst of economic meltdown today.
As Frank Casey pointed out, Mother Teresa did not work on Wall Street. Even so, the book details the sacrifices that Harry and his team went through to expose the evil man that is Bernie Madoff, even if it means losing money to a competitor or risk getting shot in the head. These four men are the rare gems in the financial industry. If more people like them exist, perhaps Wall Street would not be such a bad place.
Toward the end, Harry revealed the nature of some of the cases he has been working on the past few years and recommendations on how the SEC could improve. He is truly blessed - a self-taught fraud investigator accomplishing more for our country in five years than the entire SEC staff has done in decades. And for that, we owe him our gratitude.
Go get 'em, Harry.
The author's style rivals Michael Lewis for occasional off-the-wall observations though Lewis is still the top story teller; remember that Harry M. is a numbers guy, not a literary guy. Too bad high school social studies textbooks aren't written with the humor of this book; it would make all the kings and queens, villains and heroes a lot more vivid and interesting. There is valid social commentary rampant in the book which you won't have to look hard to find. The book is a good read; you probably will have a hard time putting it down once you start. Enjoy!