Untangling Madoff's 'Winners' And Losers

Bernard Madoff fraud victims hold a news conference and protest following the sentencing hearing for Madofff, who was convicted for running a multibillion-dollar ponzi scheme, at Federal District Court in Manhattan on June 2009 in New York City.
Bernard Madoff fraud victims hold a news conference and protest following the sentencing hearing for Madofff, who was convicted for running a multibillion-dollar ponzi scheme, at Federal District Court in Manhattan on June 2009 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Court-appointed attorney Irving Picard is facing an uphill battle as he tries to recover money from those who came out of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme as winners. With lawsuits pending to recover $17 billion, Picard hopes to return more than 50 cents on the dollar to the many losers.

Irving Picard is facing an uphill battle as the court-appointed trustee for the liquidation of Bernard Madoff''s assets including his now defunct securities firm. That's because Picard's task is to recover or claw back money from those who came out of the Madoff Ponzi scheme with winnings and to dole out compensation to the many losers.

Picard, who is also a partner with the law firm of Baker Hostetler, tells host Robert Siegel that investors had $18 billion to $20 billion deposited with Madoff's securities firm when the doors closed on Dec. 11, 2008. A few months later -- in March 2009 -- Madoff pleaded guilty to operating the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

"My aim is to collect as much as possible," Picard says. "I'm hopeful that we can return upwards of 50 cents or even more on the dollar to people." He says there are lawsuits pending to recover up to $17 billion.

The bankruptcy code provides a mechanism to get back some of those funds to redistribute to the people who lost money. That applies to individual, corporate and nonprofit investors. But Picard says his team evaluates investors before bringing lawsuits to recover funds.

"We're talking here about fictitious profits and somebody being paid with other people's money," Picard says. "That's very different from someone who invests and then has their account grow. Here, this is a case where the securities were not purchased for the investors and therefore all they have is the money that they deposited."

That means that if someone invested $50,000 with Madoff 15 years ago and didn't take out any money, then they would be entitled to compensation for the same amount today. "That's the methodology that we are using and that the bankruptcy court has upheld and it currently is on appeal," Picard says.

Those who emerged with profits, however, aren't banging down the door to return any of it. "We've sent out hundreds of letters and we've gotten very few, if any, responses," Picard says. He adds that his team, which includes forensic consultants, investigators and attorneys in the U.S. and overseas, recognizes that many people are not going to be in a position to pay anything back.

Picard says he still finds it hard to believe that institutional investors and so-called feeder funds didn't see the red flags raised by Madoff's claims. He says lawsuits that he has already filed are largely against those who "should have known."

The case is far-reaching, extending to more than a dozen countries. To date, Picard says the team has been able to freeze about $200 million in assets in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, and other countries outside of the U.S.

"This is going to involve lots of litigation and I wouldn't speculate on how long this is going to take," Picard says.

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

blog comments powered by Disqus