Madoff's victims: Justice may take an eternity (or 150 years, give or take)
In the wake of news that Bernard Madoff's associate and pal Jeffrey Picower (pictured) was found dead in his Palm Beach swimming pool last month, the revelation that Picower had left his wife Barbara $200 million and appointed her to head a charitable foundation funded with his estate's assets from his estate won't satisfy any Madoff victims' lust for vengeance. Nor, most likely, will the strange detail that Madoff's 17 Rolex watches are heading to the auction block on Saturday.
Picower's attorney denies claims by court-appointed bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard that Picower was complicit in the fraud. Still, some Picower money, and the proceeds from Madoff's auction, will eventually go toward restitution for Madoff's victims. But that's chump change. Madoff, after all, swindled his victims out of $65 billion.
But the law requires Picard to recoup as much as he can. Picower's estate is in negotiations to hand over at least $2 billion in profits the financier amassed from investing with Madoff since the 1970s, according to The Wall Street Journal. Picard has recovered about $1.5 billion but has filed numerous lawsuits seeking additional ill-gotten gains from those who benefited from Madoff's scheme. Picard is suing Madoff's family for $200 million -- the same amount awarded to Barbara Picower -- for using the family business as a "piggy bank."
A court filing cited by Reuters notes: "Based upon the trustee's investigation to date, Picower was the biggest beneficiary of Madoff's scheme, having withdrawn either directly or through the entities he controlled more than $7.2 billion of other investors' money."
In the end, it may be a battle of semantics. Even if the Picower family is forced to disgorge its Madoff-based profits, the money is far too little to make most victims whole. Their financial security lies in ruin; many have been forced to work well past the time they had hoped to retire.
But Madoff made merry with their money, enjoying a lifestyle becoming his image. Along with the umpteen Rolexes, Madoff rocked seven Cartier watches, while his wife had 11 Hermès pocketbooks. Bloomberg News notes that there are bargains to be had at Saturday's auction: a pair of bull and bear-motif Tiffany cufflinks and a Tiffany silver keyring monogrammed BLM are estimated to fetch as much as $440.
So the Madoff trove is getting auctioned off at $440 per item? At this rate, the victims might have recovered their money by the time Madoff walks out of prison a free man in 2159.