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Forest Hills Y author tells why Madoff stole

Who is Bernard Madoff and how could he have betrayed almost everyone who ever loved him?

Emmy Award-winning journalist Andrew Kirtzman tried to answer that question in his new book, “Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff,” which he will discuss at the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

“I sat in people’s kitchens watching Bernie Madoff’s victims sob as they told me their stories,” Kirtzman said. “It allowed me to piece together who this man was.”

Kirtzman heard the stories of more than 100 people who had lost nearly everything to the 71-year-old Madoff, a Laurelton native and Far Rockaway High School graduate who was sentenced to 150 years in federal prison for masterminding a Ponzi scheme that duped investors out of more than $65 billion.

Among Madoff’s victims were former Forest Hills residents Stephen and Fran Richards, whose story Kirtzman said was especially heart-breaking.

“They had met Bernie Madoff when he was about 13 years old in Laurelton,” Kirtzman said. “They met him at the house of Ruth Madoff because Bernie was dating Ruth at a young age .… They trusted him, and they invested more and more of their money with him until they decided to refinance their house and pour all that money into Madoff’s account.”

Then, on Dec. 11, 2008, the Richards were watching television at their home in Florida, where they had retired, and saw that Madoff had been arrested.

“They realized they were not only broke but homeless, too,” Kirtzman said.

The Richards are currently trying to hold on to their Florida home and Kirtzman said it was “unclear if they’ll be able to.”

Kirtzman’s work on Madoff, published by HarperCollins in August, is his second book. He first penned a book about former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2000, also for HarperCollins.

“When I was assigned to write this book, my concern was so many reporters were covering this story that there would be nothing left for original reporting,” Kirtzman said. “That’s when I made the decision to focus not so much on what he did but why he did it. What kind of person would do this?”

Kirtzman tracked down everyone from Madoff’s secretaries to drivers to the first girl he kissed and uncovered the portrait of a man who many had believed to be a role model with whom they trusted their life savings.

He pieced together the story of a man with an inferiority complex who learned to be deceitful from his parents and ran a rogue stock trading operation from their living room. Madoff went from being a boy dumped numerous times by girls who described him as unintelligent to a man who betrayed Carl Shapiro, the 90-year-old Boston philanthropist who once considered Madoff his second son and from whom Madoff asked for $250,000 in the days leading up to his arrest, Kirtzman said.

Kirtman’s talk at the Central Queens YM & YWHA is open to the public and a $5 donation is suggested. For more information, call 718-268-5011, Ext. 151.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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