Federal authorities seized disgraced financier Bernard Madoff’s Palm Beach mansion, his vintage yacht and a smaller boat on Wednesday, part of an effort to recoup assets to pay back investors he swindled.
Barry Golden, a spokesman for the US Marshals Service, said about five marshals arrived at the 813m², five-bedroom mansion late on Wednesday afternoon, hours after the boats were seized. Authorities planned to enter and secure the mansion, change the locks and conduct an inventory of the property, which Palm Beach County records show had a taxable value of US$9.3 million last year.
Golden said marshals would spend about three to four hours filming and photographing items in the house that might be removed at some point.
“It’s not an April Fools’ joke,” he said.
The mansion was unoccupied when federal authorities arrived, and the inspection was taking longer than expected because there were so many locks that needed to be changed.
Palm Beach County property records show the mansion was purchased in 1994 under his wife Ruth’s name for US$3.8 million. Last year’s property tax bill was US$157,298. Golden said the estate would be “monitored and maintained” and is no longer considered Madoff’s property. Marshals posted a “no trespassing” sign on one of the windows.
“Once the judge signed the order, it stopped being Bernie Madoff’s home,” Golden said.
Earlier in the day, Golden said Madoff’s 17m yacht Bull and a 7.3m motor boat were taken from marinas on Florida’s east coast. The yacht, a 1969 Rybovich, is worth US$2.2 million.
“A lot of money was put into maintaining this boat,” Golden said. “This boat was extremely well kept, extremely clean. Engine compartment was spotless. It looked like somebody took a bottle of 409 and scrubbed it every day.”
Madoff, 70, is in jail in New York awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty to swindling billions of dollars from investors in what could be the biggest scam in Wall Street history. He faces up to 150 years behind bars.
Prosecutors are seizing as much as they can of Madoff’s personal fortune, and have begun demanding millions of dollars in payments from his relatives. Roughly 6,700 people have filed claims for a share of whatever is recovered. Thousands more — some who lost in excess of US$1 million — are expected to come forward.
Court documents filed by Madoff’s attorneys indicate he and his wife had up to US$826 million in assets — including the boats — at the end of last year.
If prosecutors get their way, Madoff and his wife, who has not been charged, will have to give up all their assets, including a US$7 million Manhattan penthouse bought in 1984, the Florida home, a US$1 million home in Cap d’ Antibes, France and a US$3 million luxury home on New York’s Long Island. The government also wants Madoff and his wife to forfeit US$10 million in furnishings for all the homes and luxury cars, among other items.
Defense attorneys have indicated they may try to keep the Manhattan apartment, as well as about US$62 million in securities, for his wife.
“We have no objection to the seizure or to the assets being sold,” lawyer Ira Sorkin said in brief remarks on Wednesday. “The proceeds of the sale will be put aside for discussion at a later date.”
A small group of aggrieved investors — fearing they might be shortchanged by the forfeiture process — took steps on Wednesday to try to force Madoff into personal bankruptcy so they can directly pursue his assets.