What Dimon, Cutler Knew About Madoff

The WSJ has a piece this morning advancing our knowledge about what Jamie Dimon knew about the Madoff fraud.

Turns out, the Journal’s sources say, he knew a little about this, but not about that.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon wasn’t informed about a formal report that raised suspicions about Bernard Madoff prior to Madoff’s arrest. But he did know about the bank’s 2008 decision to pull money from many hedge funds, some of which turned out to be Madoff-related, according to people familiar with the Madoff case.

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it, and the Journal does well to get it into the record.

This comes on the heels of the NYT’s maddening scoop straight from the goofball himself, who says banks and hedge funds “had to know” about his gargantuan Ponzi scheme—though, for various reasons that I’m sure make perfect sense to him, doesn’t say which ones.

So far, so good.

But it’s always a bit disconcerting to hear J.P. Morgan’s general counsel, Stephen Cutler, chime in on this topic, as he does in the Journal story in response to Madoff’s claims.

But on Tuesday, the bank’s general counsel Stephen Cutler stood before a group of analysts and said J.P. Morgan “did not know about or in any way participate in the fraud” and vowed not to litigate the case in the media.

Too bad about that last point. Cutler, we tend to forget, was the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief from October 2001 to October 2005, a big part of the time that Harry Markopolos was vainly blowing the whistle on the Ponzi artist to that very agency, starting in 2000.

True, Markopolos sent his famous memo, “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund Is a Fraud,” in November 2005, a month after Cutler left the agency to go back to a merged version of his old firm, now known as Wilmer Hale, before taking another turn through the revolving door to JP Morgan in December 2006.

But the SEC was already well on its way to bungling the case, as this Journal reconstruction from December 2008 makes clear.

As Markopolos told Congress in 2009:

“My experiences with other SEC officials proved to be a systemic disappointment and lead me to conclude that the SEC securities lawyers, if only through their investigative ineptitude and financial illiteracy, colluded to maintain large frauds such as the one to which Madoff later confessed,” Markopolos said. Madoff “had a lot of help,” Markopolos said.

Beyond who-knew-what-when, it’s our claustrophobic regulatory culture that needs a deeper look.

Taibbi’s piece isn’t a bad place to start.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman. Tags: , , , ,