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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marc Dreier way cooler than Bernie Madoff

Marc Dreier, currently cooling his heels in the Men's Correctional Facility in Manhattan, must be a little chagrinned. He pulled off -- or almost pulled off -- one of the most ingenious, creative, nervy scams in Wall Street history. Yet it is Bernie Madoff, with his tired old Ponzi scheme, who's getting all the publicity.

True, Madoff, with his missing fifty billion, will have more of an impact. Dreier took just chicken feed ($380 million) by comparison.

But from an artistic standpoint, Dreier has it all over Madoff. Dreier's scam was to sell fake promissory notes from large real estate companies to various hedge funds. He would do this by setting up an appointment with the representative of a hedge fund in the conference room of a real estate firm he did business with. Because Dreier's law firm did business with these real estate firms, the receptionists and lawyers were not surprised to see him there. And because of the location of the meeting, it was natural enough for the hedge funds to assume that Dreier was representing the real estate companies.

On one occasion, when Dreier was in Toronto on business, he met with a lawyer in a conference room, got his card, and then immediately afterwards impersonated that lawyer to a third party. That takes a fair amount of creativity as well as nerve.

It's like something that would happen in a movie.

This is part of the reason that while Madoff has been let out on $10 million bail, the judge overlooking the Dreier case decided that he is not to be let out for any reason, since he is a "master of impersonation and forged documents."

Dreier is a 1972 graduate of Yale and a 1975 graduate of Harvard Law. No word yet on which courses helped the most in pulling this scam off. (Of course, the most important thing those two schools teach you is that you're smarter than everyone else, and having that mindset undoubtedly helped encourage him to come up with the idea in the first place.)

Both Dreier and Madoff score stylistic points for the supposed sophistication of the investors they ripped off. Both men took some hedge funds, and Madoff also fleeced the Jewish elite of both New York and Palm Beach, as well as a few European banks and a handful of charities.

Neither man can quite claim to be Robin Hood. Although they took from the rich, they mostly gave to themselves. Both men kept several expensive residences as well as a yacht. Both were understandably secretive about their financial dealings and seem to have kept others at their own organizations in the dark about their machinations.

If a movie is made about either man, the 58 year old Dreier, a natty, even-featured presence, could be played by Michael Douglas. Madoff could be played by any number of older character actors; Dustin Hoffman comes to mind.

The SEC, which investigated Madoff a couple years ago and found nothing amiss, could provide comic relief in that all too common role, the bungling policemen.

Christopher Cox, the head of the SEC, might be played by Tom Hanks, in a reprise of his Forrest Gump role.


Anonymous said...


I'm enjoying your posts. One of my good friends from Westport was a partner at Dreier. The ultimate ending to all this, which would have been better than the one depicted in "The Sting", would have been if Dreier invested his money with Madoff.

Stu Kaplan

John Craig said...

Thank you Stuart. You're right, that would have been perfect poetic justice.