with PAULA SCHWARTZ– Last night’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “In God We Trust” brought a pair of unexpected guests: Andrew Madoff and his girlfriend Catherine Hooper. The film, directed by Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson, chronicles at least in broad stokes, the ghastly misdeeds of Bernie Madoff that led to his downfall, the suicide of his son (and Andrew’s brother Mark), the splintering of their family and the whole destruction of hundreds of victims.
Andrew came in early to the SVA Theater on West 23rd and quietly took seats up front. No one recognized him because he is now bald and undergoing chemo. But I spoke to him before and after the screening. The soft spoken Madoff told me he’d been shown a “very rough cut” early on. He and Hooper sat through the entire screening and the Q&A that followed. This meant watching the entire story– his brother’s suicide, the disintegration of his mother, and his own personal undoing. He and Hooper ate popcorn, however, and laughed when there were uneasy jokes. When the film was over I asked him how it had been for him. “Tough to watch,” he said.
Madoff also told Paula Schwartz about his health:
“I’m doing well. Right now I’m in treatment for lymphoma. Just finished six rounds of chemotherapy, having a stem cell transplant in about a month.”
Indeed, “In God We Trust” traces the story of Madoff’s secretary, Eleanor Squillari from 25 year loyal employee to whistleblower. Squillari maintains that she never knew what Madoff was up to, that he was running a massive international Ponzi scheme. She set out to help the government piece together the story.
The film condenses a lot of the Madoff story, and leaves a lot of questions left to be answered. The “feeder” accounts are only skirted, and there’s no mention I can remember of Ezra Merkin or many other Madoff associates. Merkin got off easy, paying just $405 million in a civil settlement with investors he brought into the Madoff mess.
The film does try to leave the impression that Madoff may not have been his own captain, and that he was somehow taking orders from Jeffry Picower, the billionaire who ultimately committed suicide. But it’s hard to believe, frankly. That dog, as they say, does not hunt.
Still, filmmakers Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson are fairly thorough. And using Squillari, who is now living in Florida with her second husband, was a coup. If she is to be believed– and I think she is– Madoff had no investment or pension plan for her. When the company collapsed, she lost her house. She sold her story to Vanity Fair but never wrote a book. Her daughter told me that she thought Andrew came to the screening to support her, and that the two remain on good terms.
But still: it was disarming to sit behind Andrew Madoff, especially during the Q&A, and hear strangers rip apart his family. I don’t know how or why he endured it. But maybe it’s some form of therapy for him, his own mea culpa.