Burt Ross has learned many things since the Madoff debacle. For starters, he said, he should have listened to his wife, Joan, when she suggested six months ago that he take some money out of the Ascot Hedge Fund, a key player in the scandal.
“I told her she was crazy. That was the only thing that wasn’t losing money,” he said.
Ross – an Englewood resident, former mayor of Fort Lee, and well-known Bergen County real estate developer – told The Jewish Standard that he lost about $5 million, both through Ascot and through direct investments with Madoff.
Still, he said, “I’m fine. I feel blessed for many reasons. I’ve got love, my health, and a wonderful support system.”
Ross, a stockbroker in the early 1970s, said he “went public” about his personal losses “to help me cope with them.” Some people deal with difficult situations through humor or talking – his chosen response – “while others jump out of windows,” he said.
When you speak out, “it allows people to come forward and be there for you.” Paying tribute to the many old and new friends who have offered him comfort in recent weeks, he said, “I wouldn’t trade this love for all the yachts and planes Madoff had in his lifetime.”
He said that one man, a total stranger, read his story in last week’s Wall Street Journal and offered to finance the trip Ross was forced to cancel in light of his losses.
“It was so moving,” Ross said.
Regarding Madoff, whom he called an “evil genius,” Ross said, “we got taken by a maestro. Jewish philanthropy has been put back a decade. It’s a shanda, a disgrace.”
He said he hopes people of means who have not been affected by the financial disaster will “step forward and pick up the slack for those of us who have lost it.”
Most important, he said, he wants people who have lost money in the scandal to understand that they should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to speak out. In addition, he said, “there are so many good people. If Bernie Madoff makes you lose faith in humanity, he’s won.”
For himself, he said, he will “work a little harder, approach life one day at a time, and continue to recite the serenity prayer each day. Self-flagellation doesn’t work.” Nor does treating oneself as a victim or second-guessing past decisions.
“What would I say to Madoff if I saw him?” mused Ross. “Hopefully, I wouldn’t see him. But if I did, I’d say, ‘Feh.’ You look at him and you want to wash your hands,” he said, asking how anyone could “screw everyone you know and make your name one that will live in infamy.”
He said he is not angry at Madoff – “I’m beyond that,” he maintained – but he is upset that the Securities and Exchange Commission, informed that Madoff was running a fraudulent scheme, cleared him after two investigations.
“We must appoint people who do their job,” he said, citing the comment by Chris Cox, the SEC chairman, that the commission “might have blown it.”
“Just what would have had to happen for him to remove the word ‘might’ from that statement?” asked Ross.