SEC has been slow to react to fraud claims

Financial Crisis Posted on

Before his downfall in an alleged fraud that may end up costing investors $50 billion, Wall Street money manager Bernard L. Madoff circulated a promotional message extolling his service to clients.

"Customers know that Bernard Madoff has a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing and high ethical standards that has always been the firm's hallmark," Madoff proclaimed in a brochure designed to drum up more business.

The brochure called attention to the high-tech trading side of his business that was supposedly honestly run and legitimate, but it also offers a glimpse of why the Securities and Exchange Commission was unable to stop Madoff in his tracks despite repeated warnings.

As financial markets have grown increasingly complicated — which was the case with this part of Madoff's operation — the SEC has struggled to keep up with the changes.

The circumstance of this relatively tiny bureaucracy — 3,567 employees including clerical workers — is that of an agency overwhelmed.

"It's not a 21st century institution; they're all living on their past glory, which was great, but it's gone," said Isaac Hunt, an agency commissioner from 1996 to 2002.

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