Scoundrels and Scalawags

“The World Wants to be Deceived”— German proverb


What is it about stunning scoundrels like Bernie Madoff, and Newport’s own Madoff wannabe Eizabeth C. (Liza) Baldwin, that makes them appear so…well, harmless?

Like Madoff, Baldwin convinced her investors in her Ponzi scheme, called The Newportant Group, that she could get them 50% returns on their money, and that they were in a select group that was smarter than the rest of mankind, exploiting an age-old weakness of our species.


Madoff wannabe Eizabeth C. (Liza) Baldwin
Photo by Billy Black


Liza used to be seen lunching at Yesterday’s, a bistro-style restaurant on Washington Square, where she waved happily to passers-by.  She lived then in the Point section of Newport, and dated a local recovering alcoholic who, for most of the relationship, was able to navigate Newport only on a bicycle, and , it is said, wanted sex at the exact same hour each day. There were others before that.  Her earlier life in New York City was marred by a divorce from an Episcopal priest, who was rector of St. Bernard's in Bernardsville/Far Hills, NJ, and served as interim rector of Trinity Church

in Newport, who informed her that he was gay.

Then suddenly she appeared at the exclusive Carnegie Abbey Club in 2005 at an awards party for the Newport Bucket, a prestigious yacht race, as owner of a 65-foot yacht, the Van Ki Pass.  NewportSeen columnist Linda Phillips remembers noting at the party that her circumstances had certainly changed, but, as did her hapless investors in Newport and in Virginia Beach, attributed it to her stellar performance of her fund.


Madoff’s only putative influence on Newport could have been the sudden bankruptcy of the Touro Synagogue foundation, which funds the ongoing work and current construction at Touro Synagogue, the country’s oldest.  While it was denied by officers of the Foundation that it was invested with Madoff, it is still suspected in the closing for the winter of the august institution to visitors (since reopened for summer months).  And the timing was perfect.  The John L. Loeb center, a distinguished addition to the site, will open on schedule this summer, as well.

Now 63 years old, Elizabeth  Baldwin was known as a sociable divorcée and wealthy commodities trader who spent the high days of summer racing her yacht in Newport, the Caribbean, and in Europe, joining a privileged set and enjoying the spoils of her scheme. As in the brilliant short story by Willa Cather, “Paul’s’ Case,” the anti-heroine of this tale grabbed the golden ring, knowing all was unsustainable, but willing to go for it all -- for a moment.  The moment has passed, as Baldwin, free on bail for the last year, has been indicted on 142 counts of defrauding investors of nearly $8 million. Court documents state: "Profits reported to the investors were false," quoted the Providence Journal. Arrested by Rhode Island state police, brought into court May 6, she is now out on $100,000 bail. She has pled not guilty, citing illness, anxiety disorder and "a catastrophic trading loss of $4 million." The trial will begin in July, with a pretrial hearing held on June 8.  The trial will be watched, and commented on, by Newport Seen.  At this writing, her assets, including the status symbol Van Ki Pass yacht, are being dispersed by the court.

Baldwin is being called a “socialite” in local and national media.  She is not, and never was, a socialite by Newport’s standards:  those set by Mrs.  Caroline Astor and rival Mrs. William K. (Alva) Vanderbilt, and carried on by the wonderful Helen Winslow, Mrs. John (Eileen) Slocum, “Oatsie” Charles, Dorrance (Dodo) Hamilton, and other great Newport ladies and philanthropists.

As the astute columnist Cindy Adams said in a recent New York Post column:  “Madoff And Baldwin:  soulmates, possibly cellmates?”   That would be a divine revenge for their victims.












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