By David Gelles and Gillian Tett
Financial Times: April 8 2011
We are cruising through North Carolina on a foggy morning in late March, heading up to its rural north. Our route takes us through swampland shrouded in a thick mist; spruce trees and an occasional pink dogwood line the interstate. Butner, population 6,391, is our destination.
The town is home to a vast federal prison complex that includes a hospital, a minimum security unit and two medium security facilities. Since July 14 2009, arguably the most notorious inmate at FCI Butner Medium I has been Bernard Lawrence Madoff, the disgraced New York financier who orchestrated a $65bn Ponzi scheme, among the biggest financial frauds of all time. He is prisoner 61727-054.
When the Madoff scandal broke in 2008, a Financial Times reporter learnt that two acquaintances of his were close to the Madoffs and passed along an invitation for any member of the family to speak with the paper. For more than a year, there was silence. Then, early last December, the reporter received an e-mail from Madoff himself. Following sporadic correspondence, and at very short notice, a message came from the prison: Madoff would meet with the FT.
It is only the second time he has agreed to meet a reporter in prison. But as we drive north, we wonder if this man who built his career on lies will tell us the truth. Or when we get to the prison, will he simply vanish – like all those billions in his Ponzi scheme? Crossing rusted train tracks, we drive a couple of miles and arrive at the main intersection of this one-traffic-light town.