Trustee claims Madoff firm was family's piggy bank

The admitted swindler treated Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities "as his personal bank account, taking funds when he needed them."

Bernard Madoff 248 88  (photo credit: AP)
Bernard Madoff 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The credit-card bill is a 30-page study in conspicuous consumption. A quick scan shows a restaurant charge of more than $2,800, $2,000 in spending at a Parisian boutique and $441 at a gourmet bagel shop. The total amount due: more than $100,000. Eye-popping numbers aside, the American Express statement from January 2008 has taken on broader meaning because of the notorious name on the corporate account: Bernard L. Madoff. And the vast majority of the charges aren't even his; they belong to his family and associates. The bill is among a pile of exhibits filed recently in a Manhattan bankruptcy court by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee who is dissecting Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme. Lawyers for the trustee claim in accompanying court papers that the credit-card statement and other records prove Madoff's family used his clients' money to pay for homes, travel, fancy meals and other personal expenses. The admitted swindler treated Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities "as his personal bank account, taking funds when he needed them and transferring funds to other Madoff entities or family members when it suited his whim and purposes," the lawyers wrote. Since the money was so intertwined, Picard has argued to a Manhattan bankruptcy judge that it would be more efficient and economical to consolidate separate efforts to identify and liquidate Madoff's business and personal assets. A hearing is set for May 21. The trustee has frozen Madoff's bank accounts, sold off legitimate portions of his business and filed lawsuits to reclaim ill-gotten gains. The money will be used to pay claims brought by thousands of burned investors. Madoff, 70, pleaded guilty in March to charges that his secretive investment advisory operation was a multibillion-dollar fraud. He could spend the rest of his life in prison. In his plea, Madoff took all the blame for the scheme. He tried to create a wall between himself and his family, saying the separate trading operations run by his brother and two sons were "legitimate, profitable and successful in all respects." Federal investigators have said they don't believe that, but won't discuss how the investigation - now in its fifth month - is progressing. Lawyers for various family members and firm executives have denied any wrongdoing. The trustee has stopped short of accusing anyone else of participating in perhaps the largest securities scheme in history. But in sometimes-scathing language and in the most detail to date, his lawyers claim Madoff insiders were blatant beneficiaries. Madoff used his firms in Manhattan "to siphon funds which were, in reality, other people's money, for his personal use and the benefit of his inner circle," the recent filing by trustee lawyers said. "Plain and simple, he stole it." They accuse Madoff's family of burning through hundreds of millions of dollars to cover their decadent lifestyle. Family members, the lawyers wrote, "used customer accounts as though they were their own." The trustee's investigation has concluded that Madoff's boat captain, maid and house-sitter in Florida were on his firm's payroll. Since 1996, the business also paid nearly $1 million in fees and charges at high-end golf clubs on Long Island and in Florida. Also purchased were two boats - worth more than $11.5m. - that "served no business purpose," court papers said. The records show that $11m. more was funneled to Madoff's sons to buy homes on the high-priced Upper East Side in Manhattan and on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, the trustee said. Then there was the corporate credit card used by Madoff's family and close business associates. Of the $100,121.99 bill from January 23, 2008, Madoff's wife, Ruth, was the top spender, ringing up $29,887.94 in charges. They included a $2,000.01 purchase at a Giorgio Armani outlet in Paris and $1,214.10 at a Diane Firsten shop in Cincinnati about a week later. A sampling of the other charges: $2,879 at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Wyoming by son Andrew; $584.96 for limousine service by son Mark; $521.82 at a New Jersey wine shop by employee JoAnn Crupi; and $441.00 at a gourmet bagel shop by brother Peter. It also contains numerous small charges at grocery stores, convenience stores, Internet retailers, gas stations and movie theaters. The statement makes Bernard Madoff himself look miserly by comparison. He was charged only for an annual credit-card membership fee and an airline tax. The total: $470.