The government even included a $39,000 Steinway piano and $65,000 in silverware, both owned by Ruth Madoff, in items it said it will try to force the Madoffs to forfeit. The list was in a three-page document filed in U.S. District Court late Sunday.
Brenda Sharton, a lawyer with a Boston firm representing several burned investors, said the government's aggressive approach with Ruth Madoff isn't surprising.
"I don't think it's unusual ... given the magnitude of the fraud," she said. "It would be unusual if they didn't go after whatever assets they can get."
Bernard Madoff, 70, has been living in a small cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan since he pleaded guilty Thursday to securities fraud, perjury and nine other charges. He could be sent to prison for up to 150 years at a June sentencing.
If prosecutors get their way, the Madoffs will have to give up all their assets, including three properties listed solely in Ruth Madoff's name; a $7 million Manhattan penthouse bought in 1984, an $11 million Palm Beach, Fla., home purchased in 1994 and a $1 million home in Cap d' Antibe, France. Another $3 million home bought in 1979 in Montauk is jointly owned by the couple.
The government also said Madoff and his wife should forfeit:
- $10 million in furnishings for all of the homes, along with accounts in Ruth Madoff's name that hold $17 million in cash and $45 million in securities.
- "Bull," a $7 million yacht in France and its $1.5 million boat slip, and "Little Bull," a $320,000 Montauk boat, all in Ruth Madoff's name, as well as a $2.2 million fishing boat in Palm Beach, Fla., that is in Madoff's name.
- A 1999 Mercedes SLK convertible in Florida, a 2001 Mercedes station wagon and a 2004 Volkswagen, estimated to be worth a total of $25,000.
Not mentioned in the document was $2.6 million in jewelry, although the government did say it would seek "all insured and readily salable personal property" in any of the Madoff properties.
Ruth Madoff has not been charged in the massive swindle. But Karl Buch, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said the government filing shows prosecutors believe she knew about the scam.
"If the government had strong evidence she was an innocent third party, they wouldn't bring a forfeiture," he said.
The assets were first listed in a document made public Friday that listed the couple's combined assets at between $823 million and $826 million, most of it the estimated $700 million value of what is left of Madoff's businesses.
Defense lawyers haven't formally sought to retain any assets, but indicated previously that they might try to keep the Manhattan penthouse and $62 million in cash and securities for Ruth Madoff because those assets were not part of the fraud and were listed in her name.
The lawyers have noted that Madoff and his wife agreed to a freeze of their assets as the government and others recover as much as possible for investors.
Attorneys for Madoff, Ruth Madoff and a federal prosecutor's spokeswoman all declined comment.
So far, about $1 billion in assets have been identified for investors, just a small portion of the $65 billion Madoff told his 4,800 investors that he had on hand in November. Authorities say they believe the figure included what would have existed if much smaller original investments had grown for decades.
On Monday, attorneys for the trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff's company's assets filed U.S. Bankruptcy Court papers saying the trustee plans to hire a lawyer in Gibraltar to recover assets there.
"Issues have arisen overseas, and in Gibraltar in particular, that require the trustee's participation and representation by counsel," the filing said. "The trustee has become aware of assets that he believes to be customer property located within that country."
At his plea, Madoff said he began what he thought would be a shortlived Ponzi scheme in the early 1990s in response to a recession. He said he never recovered and continued making payouts to early investors with money from new investors.
Prosecutors say the fraud began in the 1980s, which would make it harder for Ruth Madoff to argue that she bought the Manhattan penthouse before the fraud began.
In September, Ruth Madoff filed for a homestead exemption to protect her Palm Beach, Fla., home as her primary residence. It was granted in January, according to Palm Beach County property records.
Florida has some of the most protective laws in the country for debtors seeking to dodge creditors. "Florida is what we call a debtor haven," said Miami bankruptcy attorney Timothy Kingcade.
But the money to buy the home cannot have resulted from fraud, Kingcade said, noting: "You can't go rob a bank and buy a home and be protected."
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