The SEC is well aware that everyone thinks its failure to stop Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme was pretty weak. After all, Harry Markopolos told them about it for years and they did nothing. But it turns out there's a pretty innocent explanation: when Markopolos would call the SEC, they didn't have a pen handy so they couldn't write down what he told them. This happened all the time and was generally viewed within the agency as not a big deal.
Tips used to come via phone calls, e-mails, faxes and even handwritten letters into the SEC's 11 regional offices and Washington headquarters. Before the Madoff case, the SEC's Los Angeles office might receive a written complaint about a bad broker, for instance, and stuff the letter into a filing cabinet if it was deemed without merit. So, if later on a complaint about the same broker was sent to the SEC's Chicago office, staff there would have no easy way of knowing about the earlier tip and connecting the dots.
Now? They've got a shiny new database. And their treatment of people who do their job for them has never been better:
Among them is Harry Markopolos, the Boston-based financial analyst and fraud investigator best-known for trying to alert regulators about problems with Madoff's operation. Markopolos said since the database went into operation, he has submitted three of his own tips. In all three cases, he heard back from an SEC attorney within days, or in one case, a few hours.
We're kind of surprised there's not a phone line dedicated just to him.