Mention Ponzi scheme and immediately you think of Bernie Madoff who in 2008 was arrested for swindling many people out of countless sums of money through an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Madoff later pled guilty and is now serving a sentence of 150 years in prison.
But have you ever heard of Laurie Schneider, who was also at the helm of a huge Ponzi scheme that cheated innocent people out of millions of dollars? Perhaps not, but Mark Morewitz has certainly heard of Laurie Schneider, and even worse, he worked for her. And he tells how he (and his family) got caught up in Schneider’s web of deceit in his riveting book, The Ponzi Princess.
Mark Morewitz was just a nice, relatable guy living with his then-husband Nate in their Brooklyn home when he had a chance meeting with Laurie Schneider. Morewitz was immediately taken in by Schneider’s friendliness and eccentric personality. Schneider portrayed herself as an entrepreneur with several successful business making lots of money.
Morewitz soon got sucked into Schneider’s world and became an investor. When Schneider offered him a job, Morewitz jumped at the chance. He had worked as a social worker in the world of non-profit and thought it might be more feasible to get into the world of business. Morewitz wasn’t exactly greedy or highly materialistic. He just wanted to make more money to help fix up his run-down house, provide for his family and have a few extras. I bet a lot of us can relate to those goals.
From these investments, Morewitz started to earn lots more money, which was a big change from the pittance he earned in the world of non-profit. Morewitz grew more and more seduced by Schneider’s so-called business acumen, multi-entrepreneurial achievements, and by her world of seemingly glamorous, glittering excess, which was completely foreign to a nice Jewish boy originally from Virginia.
Not wanting to be the only person to benefit from his financial gain, he convinced his family and friends to invest with Schneider, which turned out to be over forty people. Morewitz’s family and friends thought they were earning wealth beyond their wildest dreams.
But this wealth turned out to be more of a nightmare, and Morewitz and his family and friend’ s soon found out their financial gain was built on a web of lies and deceit. In 2009, Schneider confessed to Morewitz of all of her fake deals, her very own Ponzi scheme. She was later arrested in 2010.
But the story for Morewitz’ story doesn’t end with Schneider’s confession and arrest. His story became even more tragic as he realized what had been done to him, his family and friends and other innocent investors. At times, Morewitz even thought of committing suicide. He was at turns angry, depressed and at a complete loss at what had transpired in the space of several years of being caught up in “Laurie Land.”
Furthermore, Morewitz can’t believe how the justice system, which should have been on the side of the victims, often treated them as if they somehow “deserved it.” How could they be so stupid, so greedy? Morewitz tried to convince them that he truly thought Schneider was running a legitimate business because he saw the documents, goods, tax filings and contracts, not to mention there were also various meetings with accountants, investors and other business types involved.
Beyond being blamed for being a victim, Morewitz was also angry at Schneider’s trial was delayed due to her being the mother of young children. Never interested in having children before, Schneider decides it’s a good time to have babies. Morewitz is sickened that Schneider would use innocent children to make herself look more sympathetic.
Morewitz, deeply grieving, decides not to commit suicide (thank goodness), and somehow finds the strength to hold his own against Schneider, her disgusting Ponzi scheme and a very lengthy trial. He is more cynical and jaded, but wiser and stronger. Thusly, he is able to tell his tale in The Ponzi Princess.
I have to admit, while reading The Ponzi Princess, I had a hard time figuring out why Morewitz found Schneider to be so compelling. From Morewitz’s descriptions of Schneider, I found her to be vulgar, low-class and bigoted. She is way too noisy about Morewitz’s sex life as gay man, offers way too many details on her own sex life and proves to be racist, homophobic and completely classless (as are many of her friends and associates).
Then again, at times, Schneider shows she can be quite generous and caring, being there for Morewitz when his father died or helping his beloved mother find a home in a better neighborhood.
But these moments are few and far between in Laurie Land.
The Ponzi Princess is not a perfect book. I did find a few spelling and grammar errors, but nothing that couldn’t be cleaned up with some good editing. I must give Morewitz a great deal of credit for getting through such a painful process and being able to write it all down. And oy, what a mensch. Morewitz is making sure some of the proceeds from the sales of his book go to his family and friends who were victims of Schneider’s Ponzi scheme.
When we think of betrayal and heartbreak, we think of them only in terms of romantic love. But The Ponzi Princess proves you can also be gutted by betrayal and have your heart break in countless pieces in the world of business. The Ponzi Princess is a difficult read, but very hard to put down.