Billions of dollars were pulled out of Bernard Madoff's accounts in the months leading up to his arrest, according to an analysis of his business records by The New York Times.
About $12 billion was withdrawn from the accounts of his firm in 2008, and another $6 billion was taken out just three months before the disgraced financier was charged with orchestrating a global multibillion-dollar swindle scheme, the documents show.
The news could mean that the thousands of investors he allegedly bilked around the world might have hope of seeing some of their lost money again.
The court-appointed trustee handling the Madoff bankruptcy case, Irving H. Picard or Baker & Hostetler, filed two lawsuits Tuesday for the return of $6.1 billion withdrawn in the last 10 years — which Picard was able to do under federal law.
The suits, filed in Federal Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, claim that the investors who withdrew the funds should have known the profits were too exorbitant to be legal.
Madoff, 70, was arrested Dec. 11 and pleaded guilty in March to charges that his secretive investment advisory operation was a multibillion-dollar scam. The former Nasdaq chairman faces up to 150 years in prison.
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Picard, who is handling the liquidation of Madoff's assets, claimed that an overseas hedge fund, Harley International Ltd., knew or should have known that its $1 billion in returns were fraudulent.
Most of that sum was withdrawn by various "feeder funds," according to the Times, including funds which have already been the targets of lawsuits by Picard.
The complaint says the fund was organized on Cayman Island, but has an Isle of Man address.
Also among those sued Tuesday is one of the leading educational philanthropies in the United States, which claims it was wiped out by Madoff's far-reaching fraud.
The complaint filed Tuesday alleges the Picower Foundation and several related entities made nearly $7 billion by investing with Madoff. At least $5.1 billion of that came out of the pockets of victims of a giant Ponzi scheme, and should be returned, it said.
Trustee Irving Picard alleged that foundation founders Jeffry Picower and his wife Barbara — friends of Madoff for decades — "knew or should have known that they were benefiting from fraudulent activity or, at a minimum, failed to exercise reasonable due diligence."
An attorney for the couple, William Zabel, said his clients were never aware anything was amiss.
"They were totally shocked by his fraud and were in no way complicit in it," Zabel said. "They lost billions of personal assets and most dear to them, all the assets of their esteemed foundation."
The Palm Beach, Fla.-based foundation had given millions to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Human Rights First and the New York Public Library. It also funded diabetes research at Harvard Medical School.
The trustee's Picower complaint says Madoff managed accounts that earned astronomical returns over 13 years. One purported to earn 950 percent in 1999.
The returns "were a form of compensation by Madoff to Picower for perpetuating the Ponzi scheme by investing and maintaining millions of dollars in (Madoff's firm)," the trustee's complaint said. "The implausibly high purported returns have enabled Picower and the other defendants to collectively withdraw more than $6.7 billion since December 1995."
Picard has filed similar complaints against other big money managers in recent weeks in an aggressive bid to return funds to thousands of clients burned by Madoff. Defendants include J. Ezra Merkin in New York and Stanley Chais in Los Angeles, longtime Madoff associates who have denied deny any wrongdoing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.