Records recovered from the investment firm run by Bernard Madoff, who is accused of carrying out a $50bn fraud, suggest that no securities were purchased on behalf of customers for as much as 13 years.
The findings released on Friday by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee liquidating the Madoff business, offer the first clear glimpses of how investigators are untangling the alleged $50bn “Ponzi” scheme by Mr Madoff. The New York broker was accused of securities fraud in December.
Mr Picard met creditors – including sole investors, banks and charities – at the US Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan on Friday. “We have found no evidence that securities were purchased for customer accounts,” he said. The trustee has recovered records going back as much as 13 years.
There was also no evidence so far that there was any difference between Mr Madoff’s brokerage business and investment adviser business, according to Mr Picard.
This finding could put further pressure on securities regulators, who are under heavy fire for missing the alleged Ponzi scheme for years. The investment advisory business, at the centre of the purported fraud, was never examined by the Securities and Exchange Commission after it registered in 2006. However, the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities body overseeing US broker-dealers, regularly examined the brokerage operation.
Investigators working with Mr Picard have located books and records at Mr Madoff’s main office in Manhattan, the basement of that building, a warehouse and a “back-up” site in Queens.
They have inventoried more than 7,000 boxes with account records. They have also retrieved account information dating back to 2000 from an old computer.
Mr Picard said that investors with qualified claims would be eligible to receive a maximum of $500,000 from the Securities Investor Protection Corp, the non-government agency that helps customers of failed brokerages. The body was set up by Congress to help investors in failed brokerages.
Beyond the initial $500,000 that investors could receive, any remaining funds will be distributed based on a formula depending on how much is ultimately recovered. The SIPC had received 2,350 claims so far. This month Mr Picard said that he had recovered about $946m.
Some investors on Friday expressed concerns about a “clawback” provision under which the SIPC would try to retrieve money paid out by Mr Madoff to investors in the 90 days before the fund was shut down. Some also asked what recourse they would have on taxes paid on fictitious earnings.
“One of the entities that has made out the best is the Internal Revenue Service; they have been collecting on non-income for the last 30 or 40 years,” said one investor. “This is a human tragedy. Many, many thousands of us are not wealthy people.”
Mr Picard said that officials are working on liquidating Mr Madoff’s valuable artwork, prints and statues that he owns – and also looking into every family member and associated insider. Meanwhile, about 45 employees are being retained to sell Mr Madoff’s market-making unit.
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