Dodging A Bullet…. by Nancy Brophy

I watched an interview on television about Bernie Madoff with Diana Henriques, author of The Wizard of Lies, Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust. Bernie Madoff was as good a conman as there was. People liked him and wanted to invest with him. To add insult to injury, he didn’t make it easy to invest. His victims fought for the honor of being fleeced.

Ms. Henriques offered a couple of examples of people who had not invested with Madoff. Not because they hadn’t wanted to, both were eager. They believed in Madoff and thought it would have been a good investment.

But both operated under rules. One set was self-imposed. The man never invested over $250,000 initially with someone new. Madoff insisted on a higher minimum. They never stuck a deal. The second man represented a charity group with stringent guidelines. Madoff failed to meet the criteria and so the second man also didn’t invest.

Years later with everything that has come to light we assume both men are congratulating themselves on having dodged a bullet. Luck was on their side.

This week I had an experience in which a similar thing happened. But I wasn’t left with a feeling of elation. This is a sad and depressing tale.

A man I know and liked was indicted for embezzling – big money – around $1, 000,000.00.

A million dollars. In the movie Thank You for Smoking, the spin-doctor maintains most of what happens in this country is for the sake of the mortgage.  A million dollars pays one-hell-of-a-mortgage payment, particularly when your income is in excess of $300,000.00 per year. But because I know this man personally, there might have been some extenuating circumstances. His wife had serious medical problems and the insurance had exceeded the lifetime cap for help. (Obamacare came too late to help them.) Perhaps that played a part.

He and I worked for the company at the same time. In fact he hired me, but my tenure was short (and rocky- but that’s another story). I had known there were problems. At the end I told several people that the company would go under (they did) and that the accounting situation was ripe for embezzlement. I wish I was proud that I accurately predicted the future, but I’m not.

Not only did this man violate everyone’s trust but he and owners professed to be great friends.Once again we don’t know all the details, perhaps he was the scrap-goat for a failing company?  The highlight of the story is that I’d long-since left the company when everything went south. While I could see the set-up was perfect, it wasn’t happening while I was there. So I suppose others would say I was lucky. I, too, had dodged a bullet.

When I first heard the news, I wanted to believe something had gotten screwed up somewhere and the guy I liked couldn’t possibly be involved with this. Do I sound like the family they always interview on television? The ones who lived next-door to a serial killer? “He was such a nice neighbor. We had no clue those screams meant anything. We thought they just celebrated Halloween year ’round.”

As writers we delve into our h/h POVs. How do they feel? How did the situation affect them? But consider the young couple on their first date who lean in for kiss only to discover a dead body. An occurrence like this could change a person forever. For those of us who believe in signs, if I found a corpse on a date, I’d pretty much assume that relationship was over. In my mind every warning signal I had would be chanting, “omen, omen, omen.”

Let’s face it when we think of romantic stories, the how-we-met charming tales we will tell our grandkids, that wouldn’t be my first choice. Characters in my books have done much worse things. (money is only money – murder is forever and usually messy)

When caught, families of both the victims and the criminal suffer. Thanksgiving dinner at the Madoffs must have changed radically after his arrest. Thank goodness they’re Jewish and aren’t required to write an upbeat Christmas letter.

In the future, I will write stronger stories with deeper POVs. But that won’t change the fact I wish I hadn’t had to learn this lesson.

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Posted on October 6, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Nancy, how frightening! The one time in my life when I owned a business and had employees, I had an employee embezzle over $50K from me. At that time (in the late 1970’s) that was an insurmountable amount of money and I had to close the business. She went to jail, but I knew I’d never see the money again.

    We never know people completely. I think sometimes criminals rationalize their actions by something else going on in life (e.g., sick wife, no job, so and so can afford it) but, in the end, I believe they were prone toward it anyway. It is always a selfish act, an act without thought as to the impact beyond whatever immediate gratification the criminal was looking for–whether that’s to meet financial needs for the embezzler or to stop the pain/cause pain as in the shooter/murderer.

    For me, that is one reason I write novels. I want to have a world where criminals pay for the crime and those who might have a tendency to go wrong find the strength to stay straight and remain upstanding citizens.

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