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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The $50 Billion Ponzi

by Calculated Risk on 12/13/2008 01:32:00 PM

This is the story of the day ... here are some of the losers:

From the NY Times: For Investors, Trust Lost, and Money Too

The zoning lawyer in Miami trusted him because his father had dealt profitably with him for decades. The officers of a little charity in Massachusetts respected him and relied on his advice.

Wealthy men like J. Ezra Merkin, the chairman of GMAC; Fred Wilpon, the principal owner of the New York Mets; and Norman Braman, who owned the Philadelphia Eagles, simply appreciated the steady returns he produced, regardless of market conditions.

But these clients of Bernard L. Madoff had this in common: They chose him to oversee much of their personal wealth.

And now, they fear, they have lost it.
...
For Stephen J. Helfman, a lawyer in Miami whose father had opened an account with Mr. Madoff more than 30 years ago, the news on Thursday came as a hammer blow.

“The name ‘Madoff’ has overnight gone from being revered to reviled in the Helfman family,” Mr. Helfman said on Friday. His grandmother, at 98, relied on her Madoff money to pay for round-the-clock care, he said, and his two children’s college funds were wiped out.
...
Mr. Merkin, a prominent philanthropist and the founder of several hedge funds, including one called Ascot Partners, jolted his clients on Thursday with a letter announcing that “substantially all” of that fund’s $1.8 billion in assets were invested with Mr. Madoff.
From The Independent: 'Superwoman' stung by hedge fund guru's '$50bn trading scam'
In London, the most startling confession came from Nicola Horlick, probably the most famous British fund manager, known as Superwoman for balancing her high-flying finance career with bringing up five children. Her fund, Bramdean Alternatives, had almost 10 per cent of its assets – about £10m – invested with Mr Madoff, money Ms Horlick admitted yesterday she was "uncertain" she would ever see again. Bramdean shares lost a third of their value.
From the WSJ: Fund Fraud Hits Big Names
Giant French bank BNP Paribas, Tokyo-based Nomura Holdings Inc. and Neue Privat Bank in Zurich are also exposed, according to people familiar with the matter.

And at least three funds of hedge funds -- which raise money from investors and farm it out to hedge funds -- may have significant losses. Fairfield Greenwich Group and Tremont Capital Management of New York placed hundreds of millions of their investors' dollars into funds overseen by Mr. Madoff. On Friday, Maxam Capital Management LLC reported a combined loss of $280 million on funds they had invested with Mr. Madoff.

"I'm wiped out," said Sandra Manzke, Maxam's founder and chairman. The Darien, Conn., fund of hedge funds will have to close as a result of the losses, she said.
When I first heard this story, I was incredulous. This is probably a classic case of someone who started a business with good intentions, but had a bad month or two and covered up the losses with the intention of making good later - and "later" never came as he just kept falling further behind.

The details will be interesting. I still can't believe all these people invested so much money with him without asking more questions.