Bernie Madoff was a born operator who always seemed to know his way around the system—even when he was a young punk growing up in Queens.
In English class during his sophomore year at Far Rockaway High School, Bernie and his classmates were assigned to read a book and deliver an oral report. Bernie wasn't much of a student, and cared little about academics. Reading wasn't especially high on his list of things to do.
"Prior to the presentations," recalls classmate Jay Portnoy, "Bernie looked at my book. He just opened it up and said, 'Oh, yours looks boring.' I asked him why and he said, 'It doesn't have any pictures.'"
Bernie essentially ignored the reading assignment, and even let a couple of his pals, like Portnoy and Bernie's best friend, popular and good-looking Elliott Olin, in on the fact that he wasn't going to spend his spare time reading. He felt it was easier to just fake his way through class. Beyond that, he wasn't considered by his pals to be the brightest light in the academic firmament.
"Bernie didn't take the assignment, or school, that seriously," asserts Portnoy.
Even then Bernie was too busy thinking of ways to make money—an endeavor impressed upon him at home by his parents, Ralph and Sylvia.
"Money," maintains a longtime family friend, "was the Madoffs' aphrodisiac."
So Bernie figured he'd just deal spontaneously with the book report when the time came.
And it did, quite suddenly.
Bernie was one of the first in the class to be ...