NEW YORK — Many of Bernard Madoff's victims who thought they lost everything could get at least half their money back after the widow of a Florida philanthropist agreed Friday to return a staggering $7.2 billion that her husband reaped from the giant Ponzi scheme.
Federal prosecutors reached the settlement with the estate of Jeffry Picower, a businessman who drowned after suffering a heart attack in the swimming pool of his Palm Beach, Fla., mansion in October 2009. Picower was the single biggest beneficiary of Madoff's fraud.
US Attorney Preet Bharara called the forfeiture the largest in Justice Department history and a "game changer" for those swindled by Madoff. He commended Picower's widow, Barbara, "for agreeing to turn over this truly staggering sum, which really was always other people's money."
"We will return every penny received from almost 35 years of investing with Bernard Madoff," Barbara Picower said in a statement. "I believe the Madoff Ponzi scheme was deplorable, and I am deeply saddened by the tragic impact it continues to have on the lives of its victims. It is my hope that this settlement will ease that suffering."
The settlement means roughly half of the $20 billion that investors entrusted to Madoff has now been recovered, authorities said.