The Madoff Loss Game: Will Some Charity Stakeholders Become Even Bigger Losers? – Installment 18

October 30, 2009Articles White Collar Defense & Compliance Blog

This is the eighteenth in a series of installments on this blog that are discussing some issues arising in the aftermath of the long global Ponzi scheme of Bernard L. Madoff (“Madoff”). Installments 3 through 8, Installment 10 and Installments 14 through 17 of this series focused on the specific concerns of charities that were victims of Madoff and similar schemes. All potential stakeholders should consult professional advisors to have their positions evaluated.

On October 27, 2009, Irving Picard, the trustee in the Madoff liquidation proceeding under the Securities Investor Protection Act (the “Madoff Proceeding”), together with Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”) President Stephen Harbeck, held a telephone briefing with reporters on progress to date of the Madoff Proceeding. During the course of his prepared remarks, Mr. Picard did not discuss efforts in the Madoff Proceeding to “clawback,” that is, recover assets from Madoff investors who received more in cash distributions than they invested with him.

During the course of the questioning by reporters, the “clawback” issue was raised and the following response was given by Mr. Picard:

At the moment, as I indicated of the accounts that were active at the end of last December, there were 2,568 accounts that received more than was deposited. . . . That’s an area that we are looking at. We’re not going to be suing people who don’t have money. We’re not going to be able to collect. We’re not going to sue people where we become familiar with the fact that they have hardships, medical problems, losing their homes and other things like that. No final decisions have been made; it’s a matter that again, over a period of the next six to eight or nine months, we’re going to be taking a very close look and, quite frankly, those will be looked at virtually on an individual basis before we make some final decisions. . . . if we determine that that’s a matter that we’re going to pursue, then we will pursue them for what we believe is the appropriate amount that we should be seeking from them.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Picard did not address in his response the widely-publicized “profits” from investing with Madoff that have been reported for charities like Hadassah, as discussed in Installment 14 of this series.

Mr. Picard’s response may be compared to the report by Diana B. Henriques on May 28, 2009 in The New York Times that “[t]here is the widespread fear among some — unfounded, Mr. Picard says — that he will sue struggling charities or people of limited means for money they withdrew in the past but no longer have.”

Has Picard now evidenced by his silence a subtle shift from his earlier position with respect to not pursuing ‘struggling charities” that made profits from investing with Madoff? The October 29,2009 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy has disclosed that Hadassah suffered a decline of almost 50% in donations during 2008 to just over $85 million as compared to the 2007 level. Does that loss in revenues qualify Hadassah to be exonerated from clawback as a “struggling charity” under Mr. Picard’s earlier position? A significant portion of the decline in Hadassah donations may be due to the economy generally. However, ironically, some of the decline may be attributable to the adverse publicity for Hadassah from having invested with Madoff. Moreover, a number of its major donors may have incurred heavy losses with Madoff and could not maintain their contributions to Hadassah.

As the Madoff Proceeding continues to unfold, these issues should become clearer.

[To be continued in Installment 19]