Everyone caught up in the scandal of accused Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff wants to know where the money is.
Madoff, who authorities say confessed to losing $50 billion in a giant Ponzi scheme, has given a list of his assets, liabilities and property to U.S. regulators.
But the thousands duped, from the beach cities of Florida to yacht clubs of the Mediterranean to Hollywood and Manhattan, may never see it. And judging by the scandals involving Bayou Group hedge fund, WorldCom and Adelphia Communications, any money they may see down the road will likely be a fraction of what they invested.
We have received many calls from people and everyone is saying 'where did the money go?' because he obviously didn't use it all, said Craig Stein, an attorney in Boca Raton, Florida.
If you add up all of the firms and entities and brokers that were making commissions and compensation off of the promotion or facilitation of the money to Madoff, I bet you will find a very large number there, an economy of its own, Stein said.
Stein said he is investigating on behalf of two clients whose money in Westport National Bank of Connecticut ended up with Madoff. The bank said it provided only custodial services and did not invest any of its own money with Madoff or introduce anybody to Madoff.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which received the assets list from Madoff's lawyers on Wednesday under a court order, will not publicly disclose the information. It will become part of its investigation following Madoff's December 11 arrest in New York.
U.S. prosecutors are conducting a parallel criminal investigation after charging Madoff with securities fraud.
Past investment scams show multiple avenues for recovering losses, such as civil lawsuits, bankruptcy court, court-ordered asset forfeiture, but also years of waiting for small returns.
The Ponzi scheme purportedly run by Madoff is one in which early investors are paid off with the money of new clients.
BAYOU, WORLDCOM, RIGAS
The 70-year-old Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, is under house arrest and has not yet appeared in court to answer the charges.
No one else has been charged in the scandal surrounding Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC and the firm is being liquidated in bankruptcy court.
Madoff property disclosed so far in court filings is worth at least $78 million, including homes, a boat, a charity and five JP Morgan Chase and Bank of New York Mellon Corp accounts.
Madoff said he had $200 million to $300 million left, according to court documents.
New York litigator Evan Glassman said that while out-of-pocket losses may only total $20 billion to $30 billion when legitimate claims for principal are tabulated, recovery from all avenues will likely be small.
I think we are talking less than half, he said. Some of the likely deep pockets are not so deep any more.
The government is still looking for assets related to the 2005 Bayou Group hedge fund fraud by Sam Israel, which resulted in $450 million in losses. About a quarter of that amount has been returned to investors so far, litigators said.
Attorney David Scharf saw recovery come mainly through government asset seizures, with about 20 percent coming from bankruptcy court and lawsuits against third parties.
The good thing about it is the government has the tools at their disposal that plaintiffs lawyers don't have, Scharf said.
But the government's powers are limited when it comes to finding assets that may not be there.
Investors who lost $5.5 billion in the collapse of Adelphia Communications Corp in 2002 saw the SEC recover just $530 million from founder John Rigas and his son in a civil fraud lawsuit. It took securities litigation to win another $455 million from Adelphia's auditor and 38 banks in 2006.
WorldCom Inc investors did better with securities litigation alone, recovering $6.1 billion of an $11 billion fraud four years after the telecom company's 2002 collapse.