Why did Bernie plead guilty without any plea bargaining—that is, cop to everything and earn life in prison?
Possibly because he’s guilty, truly guilty, falling-down full-of-remorse guilty. But this Paul on the road to Damascus bit would seem to be a rather sudden conversion after decades of conducting a methodical scam that must have become second nature—the sweetest sort of hobby.
Or Bernie Madoff has something else up his sleeve. Could it be he’s willing to go to jail for the rest of his life because…he’s hidden the dough? And he’s confident that if he stays mum nobody will find it? How much would you need to be paid to spend your old age in a cell? $1 billion? Naw.
$10 billion? Hmm. Or, something further off the scales—one of the world’s biggest fortunes? Even though you’ll never see a penny of it? But just because you want the fortune—world’s greatest hidden fortune. You can’t bear to part with all this money you’ve obsessively secreted away.
We know Ruth Madoff has $70 million. So maybe this is a story more about love than theft. Bernie’s going to prison forever and ever to protect his wife’s money. But if his love is money then perhaps that’s the point: All these years he’s been piling up the money for Ruth. The more money, the more love. So that what we have in Bernie and Ruth is the greatest love story ever told. He gives up his life so that his high school sweetheart, who he’s been married to for 50 years, can be the richest woman in the world—however secretly. It gets a little creepy because no one can know she’s the richest woman. The money can exist only in some undercover pleasure palace. Well, a little kinky, but still love.
The money has got to be somewhere. She’s going to lose the penthouse in Manhattan, and the other homes in Montauk, Palm Beach, and France. Anything that can be seen is going to be grabbed. That $70 million is going to be hotly contested. He wouldn’t have been foolish enough to have gone to jail without negotiating himself a cushier deal just to protect what’s bound to be forfeited anyway. No, he’s protecting Ruth’s fantasy. Which is kinda sweet.
Of course, the opposite may as well be true. Not love, but hate. Bernie’s willing to give it all up just to get away from Ruth, the pixie blonde. Jail’s the great escape. There’s a reason a man would say yes, please, take me, no bargaining, no quibbling, I’m guilty, put me away forever! Because for 50 years he’s been needled, and scolded, and nagged by this Upper East Side Cruella de Vil about bringing home more and more dough. I need more than a million, Bernie. I need more than a billion, Bernie.
However this marriage worked, it’s Ruth’s story, too. You can’t make this stuff up.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com