Madoff and Merkin - the Pioneers of Odianthropy

On the way home tonight I decided we need to invent a whole new word to describe what Madoff and Merkin have done to the world of charities. Consider this.
  • Where you are wealthy and give to charities, that we know is called philanthropy.
  • Where you are wealthy and take from charities, that shall henceforth be an act called odianthropy.
A person who misappropriates funds that other people contributed philanthropically shows an utter contempt for humankind. It is a particularly detestable, odious, offensive and repellent act.

Madoff and Merkin then in my vocabulary are pioneering odianthropists, that is, practitioners of odianthropy.

As we finally finish our review of Steve Fishman's article in NY Mag, we note that Fishman concludes that while he served on the board of trustees of Yeshiva University, odianthropist J. Ezra Merkin helped himself to $10 million in fees that derived from the philanthropic gifts of others.

Here is the pithy narrative that Fishman assembles in that odious chapter of the Monster Mensch, How Ezra Merkin fleeced Yeshiva University.
And so Ezra took Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities places Bernie couldn’t have dreamed of going by himself. The list of people and institutions that Ezra Merkin put with Bernie Madoff is a kind of Jewish social register. There was Mort Zuckerman, the media and real-estate mogul, and Ira Rennert, chairman of Fifth Avenue Synagogue and owner of a 68-acre oceanfront Hamptons estate. Over 30 charities invested with Ezra, many of them with a Jewish affiliation. Ramaz was in, as was Yeshiva. Not every investor says they knew that Ezra’s fund Ascot was fully invested with Madoff, an assertion that will be at issue in forthcoming lawsuits. Ezra maintains that, at the very least, he let people know that he might invest with other managers. And in some instances, he claims he was more direct. In the case of Yeshiva, with perhaps the largest endowment of any nonprofit he managed, he did report a relationship with Bernie, though it appears not to have been the real one.

Ezra had served as chairman of Yeshiva’s investment committee since about 1994. Not long after that, the committee directed $14.5 million of Yeshiva’s endowment to Ascot, which Ezra passed along to Madoff, collecting his usual fee, initially one percent and later 1.5 percent, standard for all of Yeshiva’s money managers.

Yeshiva saw no conflict of interest or, if it did, didn’t mind. The university required nothing more than that those who served on the investment committee disclose that they were doing business with the university. The 2003 disclosure to the board, a copy of which was obtained by New York Magazine, reported that Ezra was managing about 10 percent of Yeshiva’s endowment through four different funds. For his efforts, he collected over $2 million in fees, almost $1 million for Ascot alone.

That 2003 memo stated that Madoff was Ascot’s “executing broker,” a term that means he was executing buy and sell orders, supposedly those dictated by Ascot. In fact, though Merkin looked at Madoff’s statements every month, and they were detailed and thorough, and questioned him about his accounts, he left the trading—or, as we now know, lack thereof—to Madoff. Some now wonder about the propriety of the chairman of the investment committee’s taking fees for simply passing along money to Bernie—especially since Bernie was elected to Yeshiva’s board of trustees in 1996, when Hermann served as vice-chairman. Why not just give the money directly to Bernie and save Yeshiva the fee? To some, it seemed like Ezra was skimming profits, and from an institution he loved.

Whatever fudging there’d been in the disclosures, Ezra did well for Yeshiva—in fourteen years, the fund grew 9 percent a year, even after subtracting losses for Madoff and expenses. And he did well for himself; certainly, he made at least $10 million from Yeshiva over his tenure.
Source: New York Magazine, "The Monster Mensch. What made Bernie Madoff, a man who helped revolutionize Wall Street and built a completely legal billion-dollar business, perpetrate the greatest fraud in history? And what led Ezra Merkin, born to immense privilege, to enable him?" by Steve Fishman, published Feb 22, 2009. 

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