The Madoff Saga: Two Years Later

It’s been two years since the Madoff House of Cards collapsed. And, as the past few days have demonstrated, we are nowhere near seeing the end of the drama.

Yesterday morning, Madoff’s son Mark was found hung in his Manhattan apartment – the victim of an apparent suicide. No note was found.

Roughly a year ago, Mark, and his brother Andrew, were sued by Irving Picard, the court-appointed representative for Madoff creditors. At the time, it was said Mark had deposited a total of $745,482 into seven customer accounts he and his family held, but withdrew $18.1 million. Just this past week, Picard also sued numerous Madoff family members, including Mark’s children, for return of monies transferred by their grandparents. No criminal charges have been filed against either Mark or Andrew.

On Friday, with the clawback filing deadline just hours away, the largest suit initiated in the process was filed against Austrian banker Sonja Kohn, Bank Medici and other related parties, for $19.6 billion. In a public statement, Picard used words he had previously not with other defendants alleging Ms. Kohn maintained a “criminal relationship” with Madoff.

Here’s a recap of other related actions, most taken in just the past few days:

Jewish World

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc., has agreed to pay $45 million in settlement of all claims related to the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Despite the financial hit, this is a good thing as it should finally allow the organization to leave Madoff in the past.

The American Jewish Congress is apparently in settlement discussions with Picard.

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF), an organization that gives scholarships to Israeli artists, was sued December 2nd for more than $5 million. According to Executive Director David Homan, “The Trustee’s lawsuit against AICF is unfortunate. Although we recognize that the Trustee is tasked with recovering monies in connection with the Bernard L Madoff Securities, LLC (“BLMIS”) liquidation, AICF was and remains a victim of the fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff and BLMIS. All funds withdrawn by AICF from its BLMIS account over the years were in accordance with AICF’s charitable purposes and to fulfill our obligation to our donors and beneficiaries.”

The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem was also sued December 2nd for nearly $7 million in alleged fictitious profits. The group has not responded to requests for comment.

United Congregations Mesorah was sued for over $16 million. The organization, of which little is publicly known, is a nonprofit controlled by Zev Wolfson and his son Abraham and the Chana Sasha Foundation, controlled by Morris and Arielle Wolfson.

Yeshiva University’s possible liability remains an unknown. YU claims they lost $110 million, but has never indicated what they invested or what they withdrew from Madoff over the years. As we discovered this week, both AJCongress and Hadassah signed waivers to void the December 11th deadline to allow negotiations to continue and receive necessary Board approval. We can’t rule out that YU also did.

Key Philanthropists

Boston Philanthropist Carl Shapiro, and his family foundation, have agreed to forfeit $625 million in settlement of all claims. The original court filings alleged they withdrew $1 billion in fictitious profits.

Fred Wilpon, owner of the Mets Major League Baseball team, his firm Sterling Equities and other defendants, were sued for $48 million.

Civil claims have previously been filed against money managers Stanley Chais ($1.1 billion), Ezra Merkin ($557.8 million) and Jeffrey Picower ($7.2 billion). Chais and Picower are no longer alive, yet that does not necessarily stop civil cases from preceding.

Financial Powerhouses (key filings of the past few days)

London based HSBC and related feeder funds have been sued for $9 billion, JP Morgan for $6.4 billion, USB for over $2 billion and Citigroup’s Citibank for $425 million.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. and several of its subsidiaries have been sued for over $3 billion in customer money that its hedge fund unit lost.

Suits have also been filed against additional financial institutions including, Natixis SA ($400 million), Fortis Prime Fund Solutions Bank Ltd ($230 million), ABN AMRO Bank N.V. ($270 million) and Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria ($45 million).

Moving Forward

Now, the long journey through the courts begins. For many financial institutions, including JPMorgan, settling is a mixed bag. While possibly reducing the overall loss, it leaves many unanswered questions and legal precedents. Something they might not be willing to do.

As to possible additional criminal charges, Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, has recently indicated that the criminal investigation into the Madoff fraud is still going strong.

For the thousands who suffered real loss through Madoff, all these suits may yet bring a little sunshine. Two years ago, most assumed they lost everything. Even last year, the optimistic thought maybe a 20% recovery was possible. Now, with the breadth of suits, and likely settlements, many attorneys are suggesting recovery may hover around 50%.

One thing is for sure, it’s likely to be a long time before the book is finally closed on Madoff’s house of cards.

Related stories:

Sonja Kohn Sued for $19.6b. in Madoff Case
AJCongress to Settle with Madoff Trustee
Hadassah Will Pay $45m. in Madoff Clawback

updated Dec. 13th: Additional foundations and nonprofits where clawback suits have been filed:

Jack Parker Foundation
The Murray & Irene Pergament Foundation
Melvin B. Nessel Foundation
Albert H. Small Charitable Remainder Unitrust
Pulver Family Foundation
H. Schaffer Foundation
Joseph Persky Foundation
The Celeste and Adam Bartos Charitable Trust
Miles and Shirley Fiterman Charitable Foundation
Miles and Shirley Fiterman Endowment Fund for Digestive Diseases
The Lou and Harry Stern Family Foundation
Architectural Body Research Foundation
The Phileona Foundation
Lebanese American University
The Mittlemann Family Foundation
Jesselton Foundation
Chesed Congregations of America
Lucerne Foundation
Lewis W. Bernard 1995 Charitable Remainder Trust
Potemkin Family Foundation
Queensgate Foundation