Bernie Madoff received 150 years in prison. In honor of this, we are presenting a few of our “favorite” con men.
Charles Ponzi: The Original Financial Con Man
The original con man he had his own con named after him. Charles Ponzi swindled thousands of people out of their hard-earned money in a stamp swindle. He bought discounted postal reply coupons in other companies and redeeming them in the U.S. Ponzi started his own company, the Securities Exchange Company. It seemed as if he was making a killing. However, he was operating at a loss. He was paying off old investors with the money from new investors and not making a single penny of profit. The end came when Clarence Barron (who published Barron’s) realized that to cover each of the investors there would have to be 160 million postal reply coupons in circulation. In fact, there were only about 27,000 in circulation.
Ponzi was charged with ten counts of mail fraud and pled guilty to one. He was released on bail and ran to Florida, where he attempted to sell swamp land in a real estate scam. He was imprisoned again and served seven years before being released. He died, penniless, in Rio de Janeiro.
Bernie Madoff: Ponzi of the 21st Century
Madoff took the Ponzi scheme into the 21st century. He scammed $64 billion, the largest financial fraud in history. In the early 1990’s Madoff began taking investor’s money, but, instead of investing it, he put it into his business account. He wanted to satisfy his clients despite being in an economic recession. He falsified trades, masking them with foreign transfers and false SEC filings. Like his predecessor, Charles Ponzi, Madoff depended on the cash from new investors to pay the old ones.
Madoff got busted when his sons turned him in to the SEC. He was arrested and charged with securities fraud. Today he was sentenced to 150 years—the maximum sentence.
Dick Fuld: Gorilla of Wall Street
Fuld, the Gorilla of Wall Street, was CEO of Lehman Brothers. He steered this formerly formidable company into the murky waters of subprime mortgages. Not only did Lehman bankroll lenders who were lending to questionable borrowers, they even made their own subprime loans. Fuld earned nearly $500 million in compensation, and Lehman left billions in toxic debt.
Francis X. Morrisey: Park Avenue Attorney Bequeathed Billions
A lawyer who specialized in wills Morrisey swindled the elite of New York (those real-life Gossip Girlers) out of millions of dollars, a few apartments, and an art collection. This con artist even scammed Mother Theresa’s doctor! Apparently Morrisey earned a reputation for taking care of rich, elderly people without billing them for his work, in return, he was left bequests in their wills or chosen to be fiduciary of their estates. He faced charges including forgery, scheme to defraud and conspiracy. He was implicated with Anthony Marshall, the son of Park Avenue socialite Brooke Astor. The two took advantage of alzheimer’s-riddled Astor to rob her $200 million fortune. Both are still on trial.
Raffaello Follieri: The Vatican’s Inside Man
The conniving boyfriend of actress Anne Hathaway supposedly had inside connections to the Vatican and was on his way to making millions. His father, Pasquale Follieri, was already a shady businessman. Father and son partnered to form the Follieri Group which promised investors big returns from real estate dealings with the Catholic Church. Looks like prison will be a family affair.
Victor Lustig: Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
The man who sold the Eiffel Tower. In 1925 France was recovering from the war and having a hard time affording the upkeep of the Eiffel tower. Lustig forged government credentials and invited scrap metal dealers to a secret meeting. Poor Andre Poisson handed over his money and by the time he realized he’d been scammed it was too late. Lustig was gone. He was later convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to 20 years in Alcatraz.
Christopher Rocancourt: The French Rockefeller
The French Rockefeller scammed lots of famous people. He “acted” as a movie producer, boxing champion and venture capitalist. He claimed his mother was Sophia Loren and his uncle Oscar de la Renta. He married Playboy model Pia Reyes and had a son, Zeus, with her. He was roommates with Mickey Rourke and convinced Jean-Claude Van Damme to produce one of his movies. In 2002 he was extradited to New York and pled guilty to charges of theft, grand larceny, smuggling, bribery, perjury and fraud against 19 victims for which he received 5 years in prison and a $9 million fine. If that wasn’t enough he has also been barred from Switzerland.