A hedge-fund customer is born every minute. A money manager who promised incredible returns is on the lam. Bernie Madoff? No, it's Art Nadel of Sarasota, whose clients think he stole $350 million from them.
The Madoff parallels are many. Nadel marketed his funds to the Jewish community of Sarasota, Fla., just as Madoff preyed on synagogue-goers from Manhattan's Upper East Side to Palm Beach. Like Madoff's firm, Nadel's Scoop Management handled funds for charities; the YMCA Foundation of Sarasota had $1.1 million entrusted to Nadel. Like Madoff, Nadel worked through layers of corporations and funds. Valhalla Management, a money management firm, subcontracted all of its money management to Nadel's Scoop Management. And like Madoff, Nadel claimed to have a computerized trading strategy that produced consistently superior returns.
It's not clear where Nadel is. His car was found parked at Sarasota's airport; he reportedly left a suicide note at his home on Thursday, but later called his wife from New Orleans. Valhalla officials, who are cooperating with FBI and SEC investigators, believe he is at large.
The fraud Nadel has been accused of is orders of magnitude smaller than Madoff's; in turning himself into his sons, Madoff claimed he'd lost $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme. And the revelation of Madoff's scheme may have proved to be Nadel's undoing, as it sent a wave of panic through hedge-fund investors.
But what the Nadel case really suggests is that there will be no end of Madoffs to discover. As Warren Buffett once put it in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, "You only find out who's swimming naked when the tide goes out." How many small schemes were hidden by the mortgage boom? And how many greedy yet gullible investors chose not to ask questions, as long as their balances kept going up? And how different are these hedge-fund scammers from the Wall Street peddlers who hawked worthless bonds? We may yet find Nadel. But finding answers to these questions will prove much harder.