The Jets and Boats Have Been Seized, Her Jewels May Be Next and She Is Ostracised by Her High-Society Friends. but America Wants More: To See Ruth Madoff Behind Bars

By Stephen Foley reports from New York | The Independent (London, England), April 11, 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Jets and Boats Have Been Seized, Her Jewels May Be Next and She Is Ostracised by Her High-Society Friends. but America Wants More: To See Ruth Madoff Behind Bars


Stephen Foley reports from New York, The Independent (London, England)


For once, there is no one camped on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 64th Street. No television camera crew. No breathless newspaper reporters. Not even a lone paparazzo. For more than three months, 64th and Lex were the co-ordinates for an extraordinary media scrum, and even for some public protests, while a certain Bernard and Ruth Madoff looked down from their penthouse above.

But Bernard Madoff is in jail now, guilty pleas entered to all 11 of the fraud and perjury charges laid on him. His wife and companion of 50 years? She still has the $7m (4.8m) apartment - for now - and the services of the security guards she hired to protect it after she and her husband shot to infamy.

Her world, though, once so privileged and glamorous, is closing in. Homes in two countries are under threat of seizure; boats, jets and bank accounts have been confiscated or frozen; the government is even coming after her jewels.

Ruth Madoff was at the side of history's biggest swindler for the duration of his extraordinary fraud and - from talk show hosts to tabloid readers, from Madoff's victims to FBI officers - it seems the whole of the US is speculating how much she knew, how much responsibility might be hers, and how much she should pay.

The place you are most likely to catch a glimpse of Mrs Madoff now is further downtown, outside the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, in the financial district of Manhattan where Madoff used to be one of the most powerful men on Wall Street - before his business was revealed to be a $65bn Ponzi scheme.

Mrs Madoff made her first visit to see him on Monday, igniting another storm of flashbulbs but staying silent under a barrage of questions. Photographers thought they caught her in a fleeting smile. When she had previously emerged from the apartment, a week after her husband was jailed, her trip to the supermarket ended in chaos as paparazzi descended.

"Oh, this is crazy, forget this," she had exclaimed, shoving her trolley into the shelves and storming out. "Oh, very exciting, I went to the grocery store." The tabloids did indeed find it exciting. The New York Post screamed: "She was shopping for detergent - but will she come clean?"

The people now on the trail of Mrs Madoff are the FBI, the state prosecutors and the Serious Fraud Office in the UK, who are painstakingly piecing together her involvement in her husband's business and her own personal finances. They are testing Madoff's claim, repeated from the day of his confession in December to his appearance in court last month, that he acted alone. Mrs Madoff has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and her lawyers deny any.

For the time being, the 67-year-old lives in a kind of limbo, flitting unhappily between New York and Palm Beach, the Florida playground of the uber-rich, where she and her husband had the mansion and the boat and the club memberships required of that rarified place - and where Madoff's friends solicited for him some of his wealthiest victims.

If in New York Mrs Madoff is hounded, in Palm Beach she is largely ostracised. In a community where it is vital to be seen in the right company, and in the right outfits, she is decidedly out of fashion, and there has been an explosion of sniping about her. The journalist Lucinda Franks, brunching at the Palm Beach Country Club, reported back that members and other locals are damning Mrs Madoff as "a mousy little woman" or "antisocial" and that "everyone down here thinks she was involved in the Ponzi scheme".

According to Franks, when Mrs Madoff turned up in Palm Beach just before her husband was jailed, news of her shopping trip swept the area, with gossips commenting on the $7,500 Birkin bag she carried with her and even wondering where exactly she found her four female companions, since she had rarely previously been seen out of the company of her husband.

The cattiness is the least of it.

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The Jets and Boats Have Been Seized, Her Jewels May Be Next and She Is Ostracised by Her High-Society Friends. but America Wants More: To See Ruth Madoff Behind Bars
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