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Published: Monday, 3/12/2012

Madoff and Pan Am were big, and now they’re gone

BY THOMAS WALTON
BLADE COLUMNIST

I have something that belongs to Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street crook whose investment fraud bilked thousands of people out of billions of dollars. At least it belonged to Madoff a long time ago.

We were strolling through an antique mall north of Findlay when I spotted a bin full of old stock certificates. One right on top caught my eye. It was a certificate for 100 shares of Pan American World Airways, Inc., sold in October, 1976, in New York City to Bernard L. Madoff.

Madoff’s name is printed on the front. The back is stamped and signed by the principals in the transaction and bears Madoff’s personal signature.

The certificate, one of many Pan Am certificates in the bin, was the only one made out to an individual. They were available for purchase for $6.50. I bought Madoff’s, although I’m not sure why. A piece of history, I guess. Plus, though he could probably use the cash to buy candy bars at the prison store, none of the $6.50 goes to him.

Madoff was convicted three years ago today of running the largest Ponzi scheme in history. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison. That’s three down, 147 to go.

It’s projected by the Federal Bureau of Prisons that he could get out of jail in 2139 or so, assuming he earns time off for good behavior. He’ll be 201. Great sense of humor, those feds. I’m betting he falls a little short.

I checked with a couple of antique appraisers who told me my Pan Am certificate could be worth several hundred dollars. They didn’t offer, but I put it in a safe deposit box anyway.

Ironically, I recently spotted an eBay auction for another Bernie Madoff stock certificate, for which the seller wanted $50,000. It wasn’t even Pan Am stock. I sure hope he got it; I could use the money.

Inasmuch as Madoff was banned from the securities business for life a month before he was sentenced, perhaps I should send the certificate to him. He could hang it on the wall of his cell or something. You know, a little nostalgic touch of the good old days when the mayor returned his calls and Broadway was at his feet.

It makes sense that Madoff might have found Pan Am attractive as an investment option. Both he and Pan Am were riding high in the 1970s. Both were icons, one in commercial aviation and the other in the world of finance and investment.

Also, Pan Am had been victimized in the late 1960s by a phony from within, pretend-pilot Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose exploits were chronicled in the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio movie Catch Me If You Can. Madoff’s clients were victimized by the greed of Wall Street’s biggest con man.

Today, Pan Am and Bernie Madoff still have something in common. They’ve both gone away.

  • The creation of the European Union created a common identity and a common currency, the euro, while member countries retained their sovereignty and individuality.

The move gave rise to an analysis of what would define European Heaven and Hell.

European Heaven, it is said, is a place where you will find British police, German mechanics, French chefs, Italian lovers, and Swiss government.

Conversely, European Hell is a place where you will find British chefs, German police, French mechanics, Swiss lovers, and Italian government.

I appreciate reader James Hartung’s contribution, but I would add Greece to the mix. European Heaven would include Greek philosophers, and European Hell would include Greek economists.

Even though Italy is already in the mix, I would add one more occupation to European Hell: Italian cruise ship captains.

  • Here we are, more than a decade into the new millennium, and we still aren’t sure how to say what year it is.

It was easy for the first several years. First it was “two thousand,” then “two thousand one,” and so on. Nobody said “twenty hundred four,” or worse, “twenty four,” and rightly so.

But I thought that when we hit 2010, we’d all start saying “twenty-ten.” Didn’t happen.

Maybe it’ll sound better by “twenty twenty.”

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com



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