Best Anti-Ponzi Scheme

CEO Robert Lappin lost millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff scandal. But his main concern was helping his employees.

from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2010

When Marilyn Forbes, a retired secretary, first heard the name Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financier now serving a 150-year prison sentence for stealing $65 billion from his investors, she had no idea who he was.

“I saw it on the news and thought, Oh, those poor people, without realizing that I was one of them,” says Forbes, 73.

But Robert Lappin, her former boss and the CEO of Shetland Properties, who made his money building and  managing industrial parks in the Boston area, understood the implications right away—for Forbes and his other 59 former and current employees. Their retirement plans, as well as the Lappin charitable foundations’ assets and much of Lappin’s personal fortune, had been invested with Madoff. And all of it—more than $83 million—was now gone.

“I was in shock,” recalls the ponytailed Lappin, 88. But instead of worrying about his personal losses, which totaled $18 million, he looked for a way to restore his employees’ retirement funds. Six months later, Lappin—with the help of his three children, who had not invested heavily with Madoff—wrote checks to his employees for $5.1 million.

Lappin had a good model in his father, who never evicted anyone from the apartment buildings he owned during the Great Depression, even tenants who were weeks behind on their rent. He cites another reason: “It had a great deal to do with sleep,” he says. “I had to do this, or I would not have been able to sleep well for the rest of my life.”

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