Madoff cops to Ponzi scheme, faces 150 years in prison

Madoff cops to Ponzi scheme, faces 150 years in prison
Bernard Madoff arrives at Manhattan federal court before pleading guilty to running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. AP Photo⁄Mary Ataffer
By Howard Koplowitz

Laurelton native Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty last week to running a Ponzi scheme that duped investors out of $65 billion, but federal prosecutors said they were continuing to investigate the fraud to determine how the former Nasdaq chairman perpetrated the scheme and whether members of his family were involved.

Madoff, 70, faces up to 150 years in prison when he is scheduled to be sentenced June 16, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

In his statement to the court, Madoff admitted to orchestrating a Ponzi scheme in which he paid returns to old investors using funds from newer investors. He said he believed the scam was started in the early 1990s and did not think it could be sustained for as long as it had.

Federal prosecutors also moved to seize the assets of Madoff’s wife, Far Rockaway native Ruth Madoff, who met her future husband when they both attended Far Rockaway High School.

Ruth Madoff was a board member of the Queens College Foundation but resigned after her husband was taken into custody by FBI agents in December, according to the school.

Among the assets in Ruth Madoff’s name that the prosecutors are looking to seize include a 40−foot fishing boat named “Sitting Bull,” a 56−foot fishing boat, a 25−foot boat called “Little Bull,” $65,000 in silverware and a $39,000 Steinway piano.

Queens residents were ensnared by the Ponzi scheme, including at least 24 from Forest Hills. More than 120 accounts originating in the borough were affected, according to court papers.

At North Shore Towers, a luxury co−op in Floral Park, there were at least 22 victims. Some North Shore Towers residents were forced to sell their co−ops, according to Barbara Leonardi, president of the North Shore Towers Shareholders Association.

Among the Madoff victims were New York Mets co−owner Fred Wilpon, the foundation of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel and New York Daily News Publisher Mortimer Zuckerman.

Madoff, who grew up in Laurelton and attended Far Rockaway High School, pleaded guilty March 12 to securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements, perjury, making a false filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and theft from an employee benefit plan before U.S. District Judge Denny Chin.

Chin remanded Madoff without bail after his sentencing. After Madoff was charged in a criminal complaint in January, the judge handling the case allowed the Queens native to stay in his Manhattan penthouse under house arrest.

Although Madoff admitted to the $65 billion Ponzi scheme, prosecutors said the probe into the fraud would not stop.

The guilty plea “is one step in an ongoing investigation,” acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin said in a statement. “We are continuing to investigate the fraud and will bring additional charges against anyone, including Madoff, as warranted.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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