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Giant Ponzi Scheme, Eh?

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Oh, dear:

Bernard L. Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and a force in Wall Street trading for nearly 50 years, was arrested by federal agents Thursday, a day after his sons turned him in for running what they said their father called “a giant Ponzi scheme.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission, in a civil complaint, said it was an ongoing $50 billion swindle, and asked a judge to seize the firm and its assets. “Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions,” said Andrew M. Calamari, associate director of enforcement in the SEC’s New York office…

Both complaints say Mr. Madoff told his sons he believed losses from his fraud exceeded $50 billion. That figure couldn’t be confirmed. But such a loss is plausible, had money been flowing in and out for years: At the beginning of 2008, according to the SEC filing, his operation had more than $17 billion under management.

Such a scheme would dwarf past Ponzi schemes. It would also be nearly five times larger than the accounting fraud that drove telecom company WorldCom into bankruptcy proceedings in 2002.

The criminal complaint said that when Mr. Cacioppi and another agent went to Mr. Madoff’s apartment Thursday, Mr. Madoff told them: “There is no innocent explanation.” Mr. Madoff told the agents that “he paid investors with money that wasn’t there,” adding that he was “broke” and had decided “it could not go on.” He said he expected to go to jail.

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