Even behind bars, $50 billion fraudster Bernie Madoff continues to fascinate and exasperate. Yesterday, a full report excoriated the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to act on multiple tip-offs of his misbehavior. The evidence was so clear that Madoff himself believed he would be caught.

The report highlights the strange, luridly positive turn in commentary on Madoff. There has always been a love-hate vacillation between outrage over the lives he ruined and admiration of his audacity. But as Madoff has fallen off the mainstream radar, he's turned into a C-list celebrity, with memoirs detailing his sex-life and endless coverage from the Daily Beast on the twists and turns of his wife, heirs, and family. Pundits are making this an occasion to shake their heads once again at the gumption of a man who defrauded America's richest for over a decade, even wryly speculating, as Bruce Watson and Douglas McIntyre do, that Madoff would have made an excellent top cop at the SEC.

After reading the report, here's why commentators think Madoff got away with it for so long:

  • Sympathy of the Powerful for the Rich, explains Tom Foreman at Anderson Cooper 360. "The reason Bernie Madoff was not investigated earlier is the same reason the wealthy and powerful who are suspected of wrong are seldom investigated as soon as they ought to be. It's because other people who are wealthy and powerful, including the power brokers in DC, are hesitant to rock the boat for their peers."
  • Lazy, Gullible Investigators, argues Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. "The most frequent excuse for not looking into complaints about Madoff is that, in almost every case, the SEC staff was too busy doing other things. In one incident, an SEC employee said that the necessary work 'takes a ton of time.' The other astonishing thing is how gullible the SEC staff could be."
  • Madoff's Belligerence, says Allan Dodds Frank at the Daily Beast. "Wall Street legend Bernie Madoff repeatedly lied to inexperienced SEC investigators, fed them documents that probably were false, and browbeat them into submission with temper tantrums."
  • Excessive Respect for His Resume, says Bruce Watson at Daily Finance. "In addition to his years as a successful trader, the famed fraudster was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Securities Dealers, a self-regulatory organization that oversees the securities market."
  • Poor Coordination at SEC, says Zachary Roth at Talking Points Memo. "[T]he SEC's right hand didn't know what the left was doing... At one point, two Madoff examinations were going on at the same time within the agency, without either being aware of the other. It was Madoff himself who informed one team of the other's existence."