The great Madoff sell-off
The disgraced financier's home in Florida is up for sale. Stephen Foley goes through the keyhole
Thursday 10 September 2009
The antique fishing rods propped up against the wall in the vast kitchen, the 1895 set of Shakespeare's complete works on the shelf, the century-old golf clubs in the corner – they are the accumulated knick-knacks of a rich man's life well lived. They are also, it is to be hoped, a few more dollars apiece for the thousands of victims of that rich man, one Bernard Madoff, swindler extraordinaire.
Madoff's lavish Florida getaway and all its contents are going under the hammer, in the latest attempt to salvage something for the thousands of investors around the world whose life savings were vaporised in history's largest pyramid scheme.
The US authorities, who seized the 8,700 square foot Palm Beach mansion and two other Madoff homes after his guilty plea this year, are close to appointing an estate agent to conduct the Florida sale, and photographers have been allowed in. The government hopes that, with a dollop of notoriety attached to the property, it might be able to buck Florida's miserable real estate market and net around $11m (£7m).
The open house in Palm Beach gives a window into the lifestyle of a man who was once one of the most powerful on Wall Street. The 1973 property is nestled under trees, and ringed with palms, and there is Mexican tiling throughout its five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Naturally, there are stunning views across the Intracoastal Waterway, and from his living room he and his wife, Ruth, would have been able to gaze across to see his boats moored at a 100ft private dock. The couple's beloved 55-footer, Bull, is also on the block, worth perhaps $2m. Its black bull logo is emblazoned on everything from cocktail glasses to life preservers, with Madoff's initials, BLM, printed below in white.
It was in Palm Beach that Madoff picked the pockets of some of his wealthiest investors, many of whom he met at the exclusive Palm Beach Country Club, where an estimated one-third of the members clamoured to be let into his miracle-grow investment scheme. But Madoff was never investing their money, just passing it to other investors when they cashed out. By the end, last December, thousands of clients who believed they had a combined $65bn invested with Madoff discovered that there was nothing left. In June, the fraudster was sentenced to 150 years in jail and his wife moved out of the last of their homes. The Palm Beach mansion is the most expensive of the Madoff properties going under the hammer in an attempt to salvage something for victims. Also up for sale soon is the $7m penthouse apartment in Manhattan where Madoff confessed his fraud to the FBI, plus all its contents.
The apartment is scattered with Chinese antiques, ornate cabinets, porcelain vases and towering wooden screens that adorn living and dining rooms decked out with crystal glassware. The split-level apartment (a central staircase leads down to the master bedroom) has three walk-in closets, including one where agents found more than 50 business suits and countless pairs of shoes.
The Madoffs' beach house on Long Island was listed last week for $8.75m.
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