what makes Madoff tick?…

Posted on Sunday 15 March 2009

At dinner tonight, a friend said of Madoff, "I’d love to interview him. I want to know ‘what makes him tick?‘" We’re both psychoanalysts and naturally drawn to questions like his, what history would create a Bernie Madoff? I’ll admit to surfing around looking for a narrative, maybe somebody who grew up with him who might have a hint or two. That search hasn’t been very satisfying.

The only things I’ve noticed are that he’s always impeccably dressed and coifed, and that he’s awkward. Even in the pictures at leisure, he’s stiff – almost as if striking a pose simulating relaxation. And in the video clips, he’s always in motion. There’s a video of him alone sitting at a laptop in his penthouse study taken by a newsman from a nearby building, and he’s oddly postured moving about "fluffing" a pillow. And then there’s that roundtable where he’s advising investors… Wait a minute! Bernie Madoff has a panoply of facial and body tics. In fact it’s hard to watch him because of them. My friend’s question should have been, "What makes him tic?" The guy has Tourette’s Syndrome
Swindler Bernard Madoff faces up to 150 years in jail for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme
BY Thomas Zambito and Corky Siemaszko
March 11th 2009

Madoff, 70, who was wearing a bulletproof vest under his dark gray suit, white shirt and black tie Tuesday, said nothing as the prosecutor laid out his bleak future. Earlier, he spread his fingers nervously along the defense table as Chin ruled he could retain lawyer, even though the lawyer’s sons claim Madoff stole $900,000 from a trust account set up by their grandfather. From time to time, Madoff’s seemingly bland mask was betrayed by a facial tic he has developed of late – an involuntary widening of the eyes

Any number of news articles interpret his tics and "nervous" movements as "tells," aspects of his body language that betray underlying psychological conflicts. This quip says "a facial tic he has developed of late", but it’s alway there, his awkward posture, hand movement, shifting in the chair, facial tics. Purists would require some kind of "verbalizations" to call it Tourette’s Syndrome instead of Chronic Tic Disorder, but the distinction is lost on me. The point is that the peculiarities of his body language are not recent ["of late"], they’ve always been there. And they’re not reflections of underlying psychological factors. He has a disease of the nervous system…
Mom and Dad and Ruth and Bernie
Our friend the swindler
By John Maccabee
Feb 22, 2009

The best place to begin to find out about Bernie Madoff is inside his closet, in the apartment on East 64th Street. To the left are four rows of four drawers, each drawer only large enough to contain a single shirt—sixteen identical shirts, same cut, same color, a French blue that matches his eyes. Straight ahead is a row of a dozen identical suits, double-breasted, charcoal gray, English cut, pants and jackets on separate hangers, with the same amount of air on each side of each hanger. Below are two rows of handmade tie-shoes, at least a dozen of them, and again, each in the same style, the same color. There are no decisions to make, no possible deviations. Stepping into this closet was perhaps the one moment in his roiling days that had the appearance of calm.

Bernie wanted to be rich; he dedicated his life to it. He was loved and admired by many, but when his story finally runs its course, it may be that the adoration that inspired him had more to do with things rather than people. Ruth, Bernie’s wife, told my sister, who told me, that when they first moved into the apartment on East 64th Street, Ruth walked upstairs one night and found Bernie sitting alone in the dark, in the living room, weeping. He had made it, he told her. The apartment was impeccable—the last co-op in New York that Angelo Donghia designed, they bragged—with immaculate flourishes of color, deep-red Chinese lacquered cabinets that stood on opposite sides of a doorway, and the creamy color that extended down the curved staircase, and the jewel of a study next to the master bedroom, with its polished mahogany paneling, silver tea-paper ceiling, and sterling-silver sconces…

There was only one thing that made my mother nervous: Bernie’s twitch. Bernie’s twitch began in his right eye and spread to the left: There were also other facial tics, random body tics, elbow tucks, jacket-pocket tappings. Maybe the business was driving him crazy, Mom thought. But Bernie developed his tics as a diversion from his stammer. I noticed this once, when he began sputtering as I talked with him about my account…
Maybe that stammer and sputtering is the missing verbalization of Tourettes. And that’s not all. Many accounts of Bernie Madoff describe things about him like his closet in this account. Everything has to be in place – way in place. His London office is decorated just like his New York office. Everything is beyond neat – something he required of his employees. They were allowed to have family pictures on their desks, but only in small black frames. All accounts of his Penthouse decribe it as pristine, almost sterile, in spite of the opulent decorations. He has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder too – that condition we all know from the Monk series on television, or the movie, As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt.

Two Disorders? That’s not uncommon. OCD and Tourette’s are co-morbid [seen together] in around 30% of cases. There are a number of conditions that "run together" – ADHD, Tourette’s, OCD. They are seen in the same patient, and in the same familes. Most people now consider them brain diseases rather than diseases of the mind. Both are somewhat treatable with medication. What do OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome have to do with a person running the largest financial scam in history? Good question. I don’t know the answer…
    March 15, 2009 | 11:31 AM

    This is a brilliant bit of medical sleuthing, Mickey. Could it possibly be that he didn’t invest the Ponzi money because his OCD kept him from being able to make decisions about where to invest it? Having only one style/color in his clothes means he didn’t have to make choices about what to wear.

    But that wouldn’t explain why he could also be so successful in his legitimate financial business.

    Want to play around with the possibility of multiple personality/dissociative disorder?

    March 15, 2009 | 2:16 PM

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