In the summer of 2009, my first book was released, a graphic memoir called "The Impostor’s Daughter." The book was about finding out that my eccentric, charming Argentine father was in fact a pathological liar and con artist. Instead of working for the CIA, as I’d long suspected, he’d lived off stolen cash from friends and family. His college degrees were forged, his heroics in Vietnam invented. The revelations threw a grenade into the middle of our family and caused a rift that has yet to heal: My mother denied what I’d written and refused to read the manuscript; my father stopped speaking to me. Still, I knew that the consequences of remaining silent were greater than those of telling the truth. So I wrote the book in spite of my family’s protests.
About a month after it came out, I was backstage after a reading when two women approached and asked if they could speak to me privately. The shorter of the two was dressed in a soft silk blouse with cigarette pants and had thick dark hair that fell in waves to the middle of her back. She looked to be in her midthirties.
"This reading really hit home," she said. "I’m so sorry for what happened to you."
"Tell her who you are," her friend urged.
"I hope you can be discreet. I’m the fiancée of Andrew Madoff."
As if I didn’t recognize the name, she added, "He’s the son of Bernard Madoff."
I tried not to register shock; the scandal wasn’t even a year old and was still making headlines on a daily basis. I now recognized the name of the woman standing in front of me: Catherine Hooper.
In the press, she’d been labeled a home-wrecker. Supposedly, Andrew had left his wife of sixteen years to be with her. She said she’d heard of my book but hadn’t yet read it and that she planned to give a copy to Andrew that night; she wondered if I wanted to meet for coffee later in the week. We spoke for a few more minutes and I gave her my business card. Though my father’s cons were small compared with Bernie Madoff ’s, I could relate to the devastating effect that lies, grandiosity, and secretiveness could have on a person. I, too, believed my father was brilliant and unimpeachable, until I was in my thirties and a much-published magazine writer. I’d even had the unsettling experience of having people ask, "How do we know that you’re not a liar, given your father’s history?" So Andrew and I— and Catherine, by proxy— belonged to the same small society; we understood each other in a way that few other people could.
More in books
Still, Andrew was a Madoff, and that meant I needed to proceed with caution. I’d already been taken in by one sociopath—my own father— and I wasn’t about to get involved with another. All I knew about Andrew was what I’d read in the press, and the majority of articles suggested he was going to be taken away in handcuffs any day. At the time, my curiosity was greater than my trepidation, so when Catherine invited me to dinner at their home, I went. Andrew looked like the photos I’d seen in Vanity Fair: a tall, more handsome version of his father. I found him to be humble, self-effacing, and quieter than I’d anticipated. But questions
about my father tumbled out of him as if he’d been storing them up: What was my relationship like with him today? How was I handling my anger, and my grief ? What had I done with the photos of him — had I torn them up? Andrew had kept only one on display, a large one that hung in the hallway near his front door. In it, Andrew stood on a dock next to a large bluefin tuna. Bernie stood in the background, smiling proudly, wearing a green velour crewneck shirt and running shorts.
During dinner, Catherine and Andrew shared highly personal details about the days and weeks following the confession. By then, they’d both read my book; I got the sense that they saw me as a comrade of sorts, though in reality I was a journalist who owed them no allegiance. Fascinated, I listened to Andrew’s account of what it was like when he came home the night his father dramatically confessed to running the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, and then how he handled the crush of paparazzi that appeared in the following days and the overnight alienation from his parents.
Over the next two years, I was offered a glimpse inside a world that had been stripped of a future and existed only in a tenuous present. Andrew and Catherine invited me to Thanksgiving dinner; estranged from my own father, I chose to go. They had gathered a group of friends who were also at odds with their families or lived too far away to make the trip home. But old friends of Andrew’s, and even Andrew’s brother, Mark, were nowhere to be found.
As Catherine and Andrew took me further into their confidence— and later introduced me to Andrew’s mother, Ruth—I would come to discover that Andrew was not a sociopath; that he was, as much as he detested the word, a victim of his father like so many thousands of others. I observed, firsthand, the deep anguish he was suffering over his father’s betrayal and the fallout that followed. I also learned that the Madoff family dysfunction was far worse than anything reported in the press: There had been affairs, power struggles between the siblings—even, I was shocked to find out, multiple suicide attempts. The story was Shakespearean in scope, yet only the most banal details had been made available to the public. Andrew, who’d been muzzled by his lawyers since the day of the confession, desperately wanted to tell his story. Catherine was prepared to support him, as she had all along. Ruth, whose relationship with Andrew was still precarious, just wanted her family back, telling me poignantly, "I don’t miss the money—I miss nothing except my friends."
In early 2011, Catherine approached me with an idea for a book on emergency preparedness as a companion guide to her company, Black Umbrella. I offered to put her in touch with my contacts in publishing, but it quickly became clear that she was not going to be
able to move on with her life and focus on her passion until she’d addressed the elephant in the room: the Madoff story. Catherine talked to various family members and together they reached the conclusion to talk about their painful past. I did not hesitate to accept the invitation to delve into their lives. After all, I’d gone through a similar—and singular—experience of betrayal. I felt uniquely qualified to cut through the emotion and self-interest that can accompany a story like this one, and get to the truth.
That said, this book is not meant to be a piece of investigative journalism. It is the human side of a tale that has, so far, been told only in terms of dollars and cents. While the world has read about the pain and suffering of scores of people at the hands of Bernie Madoff, no one has been privy to the effect his actions had upon the people who knew and loved him best. Until this moment, Andrew Madoff; Ruth Madoff; Catherine Hooper; Ruth’s sister, Joan Roman; and Mark Madoff ’s first wife, Susan Elkin, have told their personal story to no one. Because of
the experiences we’ve all had with corrupt family members, I have been granted an unfettered look inside their lives. As for Bernie, I deliberately chose not to invite him to participate in this book. This is his family’s story—not his. Over the course of six months, I sat down with them for dozens of hours of intimate interviews, and they held back nothing. Here is their astonishing story.
Reprinted from "Truth and Consequence: Life inside the Madoff Family" by Laurie Sandell © 2011 by Laurie Sandell. Used with permission of the publisher,Little, Brown and Company.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive