Advice for the class of ’09: Think Ponzi
Advice for the class of ’09: Think Ponzi
By Evan Cooper
January 28, 2009 Post a Comment Recommend (3)
That was the one-word career advice circa 1967 received by Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, in “The Graduate.”

Here’s two words of career advice for the class of 2009:

Ponzi scheme.

Times are tough, kids. Wall Street is pretty much dead and corporate America is taking a chainsaw to its payroll. So you’ve got to go where the action is, and let me tell you, Ponzi schemes are smokin’.

Yeah, yeah, fleecing investors is criminal. And worse, you might get caught. Lately, in fact, the feds are turning up the heat and actually have nabbed a few of the crooks.

On Monday, Nicholas Cosmo, who owns an investment firm on Long Island, surrendered to the feds. Mr. Cosmo allegedly conned investors out of $370 million between 2006 and 2008, promising them returns of 48% a year.

On Tuesday, the government grabbed Arthur Nadel, a Florida hedge fund adviser who disappeared when his alleged Ponzi scheme was detected.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought at least 23 Ponzi cases last year, up from 15 in 2007.

So far this year, the total is four, and it looks like the SEC is going to be more vigilant now that the pesky press is going all negative and harping on securities fraud.

It’s clear, then, that operating a Ponzi scheme has its downside. But let’s look at the upside. A good Ponzi scheme gives you flexible work hours, high income and lots of prestige (at least in the pre-indictment stage). And while it can’t hurt to have an Ivy League degree, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon. All that’s necessary is a knack for numbers so you can keep two sets of books, plus the ability to think big, really big.

That’s the key. Bigger is better if you want to become a first-rate Ponzi schemer.

Just look at Bernie Madoff. He came right out and confessed. And look where it got him — right back in his Park Avenue penthouse. No Rikers Island or up the river in Sing Sing, or even one of those country club federal prisons for our favorite Ponzini.

Bernie’s so big that maybe all the feds’ current futzing will amount to little or nothing.

Who knows, maybe Bernie and his merry Madoff clan will waltz away scot-free in exchange for Bernie teaching the government some advanced Ponzi skills.

After all, the feds run the nation’s biggest Ponzi scheme — Social Security — and they need a master’s touch to keep that one going.

Evan Cooper is deputy editor ofInvestmentNews

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