After Madoff and Other Ponzi Schemes, Have Charities Become More Wary About Donors Bearing Large Gifts? – Installment 83

September 13, 2012 White Collar Defense & Compliance Blog

There is evidence that some charities may be exercising greater caution in their gift acceptance policies as a result of the dramatic and sometimes devastating consequences that highly respected charities have suffered from involvement in the Ponzi schemes of Bernard L. Madoff (“Bernard”) and others. It would appear that Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund of Boston, Massachusetts (“Fidelity”) has moved in that direction from actions it has taken respecting grants received from the private foundations formed by Bernard’s sons Andrew and Mark and their respective spouses. This blog series has been following for almost four years the misfortunes of charities flowing from involvement in Ponzi schemes, and apparently some charities have responded to reduce exposure to potential risks in this area.

The Forms 990-PF for 2010 filed with the IRS and posted on GuideStar by the Deborah and Andrew Madoff Foundation (the “Andrew Foundation”) and the Mark and Stephanie Madoff Foundation (the “Mark Foundation,” and, collectively with the Andrew Foundation, the “Madoff Sons Foundations”) reveals that each of the Madoff Sons Foundations made grants to Fidelity in December 2010 $176,000 by the Andrew Foundation and $79,000 by the Mark Foundation. Andrew serves as a trustee of both of the Madoff Sons Foundations, as did Mark until his tragic death from an apparent suicide on December 11, 2010. The death of Mark was exactly two years to the day after Andrew and Mark turned their father Bernard over to authorities for arrest and was in the same month that the Madoff Sons Foundations made their respective grants to Fidelity.

Each of the 2010 Forms 990-PF of the Madoff Sons Foundations contains the following “General Explanation Attachment”:

In December 2010, the Foundation made a grant of $ . . . to the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund in order to satisfy its distribution requirements . . . [under IRS regulations]. In February 2011, such amount was returned to the Foundation by the charitable organization. The Foundation will reflect this amount . . . as a recovery of a qualifying distribution on its 2011 annual return.

Why did Fidelity return the money to the Madoff Sons Foundations in early 2011? Was it to avoid potential adverse publicity that could flow from continued association with the scandal-ridden Madoff name and the recent death of Mark? In this regard, the 2009 Form 990-PF of the Andrew Foundation (but not that of the Mark Foundation) reflected a grant on December 29, 2009 of $207,000 to Fidelity, already more than a year after the arrest of Bernard. However, Fidelity did not return the 2009 grant.

Alternatively, or in addition, could the return of the 2010 grant have resulted from a concern by Fidelity that, even though the funds in the Madoff Sons Foundations had not been invested in the Bernard scheme, the assets of the Madoff Sons Foundations were derived from contributions by Andrew and Mark and could possibly be traced to monies from the Bernard scandal? If that turned out to be the case, the grants may be subject to "clawback” by Irving Picard, the Trustee of the Bernard bankruptcy estate. Picard had already sued Andrew and Mark for millions of dollars that he alleged they received from the Bernard Ponzi scheme.

This blog series has discussed the unfortunate experience of Malvern Preparatory School with a charitable pledge and grant from a donor/trustee who was later accused of operating a Ponzi scheme. The charitable pledge became worthless, and substantial grants already received by the School were recovered by the trustee in bankruptcy for the former donor/trustee who then was already in prison.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note that, in contrast to the Madoff Sons Foundations, which did not invest in the Bernard Ponzi scheme, the now-defunct Bernard L. and Ruth Madoff Foundation did invest in the Bernard Ponzi scheme, according to GuideStar Form 990-PF postings.)

In this blog series, we have advocated that every charity should respond pro-actively in the wake of scandals involving the Bernard and other Ponzi schemes. Such actions include heightened transparency in disclosures in Forms 990, examination and upgrading of charitable gift acceptance policies and improvement of governance practices. It appears that Fidelity has already adopted some of these measures.

[To be continued in Installment 84]