The eyes of a Delawarean living and working in Philadelphia were uniquely glued to the ABC-TV series Feb. 3-4 about Bernie Madoff and his legendary Ponzi-type scheme that cost investors over $50 billion.
Erin E. Arvedlund, a 1988 Archmere Academy grad who had attended Ursuline Academy, wrote the first-ever stories in 2001 for Barron’s questioning just how Bernie Madoff’s investment firm could consistently and reliably produce its seemingly impossible returns.
Although she was not able to document the fraud itself, her instincts — honed by almost a decade in financial journalism — were right on, and it may have been the first brick to be pulled from the wall that Madoff had built around his empire based on fraud.
“Holy shit, they finally got him,” Arvedlund often recalls as her exuberant response years later, when the news about his apprehension in December 2008 scrolled across a financial news TV channel as she worked at home. (When her mother is in the audience, as I’ve observed personally a couple times, that almost provokes a grimace from Mom.)
The 2008 arrest of Madoff led to the 2009 book “Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff,” published by Penguin Books, and that put this hometown Delawarean on the national and global map of financial writers.
I met Erin in 2009 in Philadelphia at the Union League, when her book was published, and we’ve become friends in the years since. I read her work virtually daily, and I respect her writing and judgment immensely. I called her for thoughts on how the Madoff story was portrayed by ABC.
“I thought the movie was a very good piece of drama,” she said. “I thought the first part was terrifically accurate, where Bernie Madoff made himself so desirable by turning away investors. As soon as someone of great wealth is told they can’t get into something, they want even more to be in, and Madoff knew that.”
“The part about the sons and the family, all of them proclaiming their innocence, and I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but that’s complete hogwash,” she added without uncertainty. “They were all part of a family that benefitted to the tune of $350 million, according to Trustee Irving Picard’s estimate.”
Picard is the trustee appointed to recover as much of the money as possible that Madoff had distributed in the Ponzi scheme. Given estimates between $50 and $65 billions of money lost, he has recovered — some of it “clawed back” from early investors who had gotten out — over half, what Arvedlund called “a phenomenal recovery!”
If understanding capital and capital marks seems a bit far afield for an Ursuline and Archmere grad, note that her father Dick Arvedlund spent a career managing money for DuPont before retirement and founding his own firm, Cypress Capital, which subsequently sold to WSFS Bank, where he still works.
Her mother is a musician who taught voice. Even her sister Maggie Arvedlund went to Wall Street, where she’s a portfolio manager for Fortress. Arvedlund’s husband Patrick Beattie is an attorney with his own practice in Philadelphia.
Arvedlund earned a bachelor’s degree in 1992 at Tufts University with work in economics, international relations and politics. She pursued her interest in language, studying Russian at a university in St. Petersburg, Russia. She describes her Russian as “passable.”
Whether Delawareans were directly impacted financially by the Madoff fraud is not known, but Arvedlund noted that “quite a few LLCs incorporated in Delaware, some charities were listed, and we know for sure there were some in the Delaware Valley,” who has identified some nearby in suburban Philadelphia.
Readers interested in this should pick up a copy of her book for winter hibernation reading, and follow her blog at www.ErinArvedlund.WordPress.com. Although she continues to write freelance, a few years ago she began a finance column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, joining another longtime Delawarean, Joe DiStefano, making the Inquirer’s business reporting team one of the finest in the country.
Arvedlund, by the way, was not portrayed in ABC’s series, which still can be found on the Web and likely will be re-broadcast. However, in one scene in the second episode, Madoff son Mark is seen reading her Barron’s article, commenting, “none of this is true” in terms of the questions raised about his father Bernie Madoff.
Turned out that Mark Madoff was wrong, and Delaware’s own Erin Arvedlund was right!