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SEC chairman says agency failed to probe Madoff

SEC chairman says agency failed to probe Madoff

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 8:56 pm
By: AP

 WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stunning rebuke, the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman blames his career regulators for a decade-long failure to investigate Wall Street money manager Bernard L. Madoff, now accused of running one of the largest Ponzi schemes ever. On Tuesday night, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox ordered an internal investigation of what went wrong and offered a scathing critique of the conduct of his staff attorneys. He said they never bothered to seek a formal commission-approved investigation that would have forced Madoff to surrender vital information under subpoena. Instead, the staff relied on information voluntarily produced by Madoff and his firm. Credible and specific allegations regarding Madoff’s financial wrongdoing going back to at least 1999 were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff, said Cox. Shock waves from the Madoff affair have radiated around the globe as a growing number of prestigious charitable foundations, big international banks and individual investors acknowledge falling victim to an unprecedented fraud. Madoff remains free on $10 million bail. “I am gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures over at least a decade to thoroughly investigate these allegations or at any point to seek formal authority to pursue them,” Cox said in a written statement. The SEC chairman said Madoff kept several sets of books and false documents, and provided false information involving his investment advisory activities to investors and to regulators. Separately, Stephen Harbeck, chief executive of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, said one set of Madoff’s books kept track of the losses at his investment advisory arm, while the other is what investors were shown. SIPC, created by Congress and funded by the securities industry, can give customers up to $500,000 if it is determined their money was stolen. SIPC has about $1.6 billion to make payouts, which means that amount could quickly be depleted in the Madoff case where losses could reach $50 billion. That figure comes from the SEC’s court complaint, which quotes Madoff admitting to losses in that amount to two senior employees of his firm before his arrest last Thursday. Cox’s harsh assessment may have the effect of shifting questions away from the politically appointed five-member commission and placing blame squarely — if not solely — on the agency’s staff for failing to aggressively pursue a massive fraud. Published in The Messenger 12.17.08

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