What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was dealing with Swiss banks, receiving a steady stream of cash from Union Bancaire Privée in Geneva. Now he's dealing exclusively in Swiss Miss, selling individual packets of hot chocolate that he's stockpiled from the prison commissary.
According to journalist Steve Fishman, Madoff is making the most of his 150-year prison sentence, claiming that he has "cornered the hot chocolate market" at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina.
"He's continued applying his business instincts in prison," Fishman told MarketWatch. "He bought up every package of Swiss Miss from the commissary and sold it for a profit in the prison yard. He monopolized hot chocolate! He made it so that, if you wanted any, you had to go through Bernie."
Fishman is the host of "Ponzi Supernova," a new six-part Audible audio series that attempts to cast Madoff as an almost sympathetic figure, one whose $65 million Ponzi scheme was just one ugly product of a fucked up—and borderline amoral—financial system. "He profited from the way financial systems work, which is a point most people don't really grasp," Fishman argues. "He wasn't a freak. He was sustained by the system, embraced by it, because it profited from him.
Madoff has been sustained by and (metaphorically) embraced by his fellow inmates at the plush prison derisively referred to as "Camp Fluffy." Fishman says that Madoff has become a "star" in his medium-security surroundings. "He stole more money than anyone in history, and to other thieves, this makes him a hero," he says.
According to New York Magazine, when Bernie arrived at Butner Medium I, he quickly hired a fellow inmate to start doing his laundry for $8 a month and he'd already started stockpiling his favorite commissary snacks and cultivating a reputation for being stingy. "You couldn't get an ice cream off him," fellow inmate John Bowler told the magazine.
As of last February, Madoff had gotten a job in the prison commissary, which would've given him access to those coveted packages of Swiss Miss. According to the list of commissary items at the Butner facility, a packet of hot cocoa with marshmallows costs 20 cents, while the more upscale sugar-free variety is 35 cents. The limit per prisoner is eight packets. There's a better than average chance that Bernie doesn't care.