Bailiffs move into Madoff's $7m Manhattan home

The US government has seized possession of Bernard Madoff's $7m penthouse on Manhattan's exclusive Upper East Side, changing the locks and forcing his wife of 50 years, Ruth Madoff, to seek new accommodation.

Mrs Madoff, who was in the property at the time, had already agreed to abandoned it and most of the couple's expensive possessions after signing a settlement with her husband's prosecutors last week, and a squad of US marshals descended on the apartment yesterday. They said they would not be emptying the penthouse of its contents yet, while they made arrangements to sell the forfeited property. The luxuries that the Madoffs leave behind include a Steinway piano valued at $39,000, silverware worth $65,000 and millions of dollars of jewellery.

Bernard Madoff was this week sentenced to 150 years in jail for fraud, money laundering and perjury.

US Marshal Joseph Guccione said officers arrived at the property at noon and said Mrs Madoff had been advised in advance of the plans. "She will be leaving," he said. "Restitution for the victims is the government's top priority."

Bernard Madoff confessed last December to running history's biggest pyramid scheme. An FBI agent, summoned to the apartment by Madoff's sons, was told that the $65bn in investments that his clients believed they owned were nothing more than an elaborate fiction, created over at least two decades. Under house arrest, with security guards at the door, Madoff had remained in the penthouse until pleading guilty in March, when he was taken into custody.

The opulence of the penthouse apartment had inflamed public fury against the couple, particularly since many victims contended Mrs Madoff must have suspected his crimes. She is not likely to face criminal charges, however. Mrs Madoff is reportedly having trouble finding permanent new accommodation. In Manhattan she has been shunned by potential landlords worried about bad publicity.

At his sentencing hearing on Monday, Madoff said his wife "cries herself to sleep every night" in torment at the suffering that he has caused.

And Mrs Madoff herself issued a statement declaring sympathy for her husband's victims. "Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused. The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years."