26 Oct 2009

Madoff friend found at bottom of pool

3:35 pm on 26 October 2009

American billionaire and philanthropist Jeffry Picower, described as the biggest beneficiary of financier Bernard Madoff's fraud, died on Sunday after he was found lying at the bottom of the pool at his home, according to police.

Police were investigating the death of the 67-year-old investor from Palm Beach as a drowning, local media reported.

Mr Picower was pulled unconscious from the pool of his multimillion-dollar oceanside home by his wife and a housekeeper. He was later pronounced dead.

Mr Picower and his wife Barbara were friends of Wall Street financier Madoff, who is serving a 150-year sentence after pleading guilty to running a $US65 billion Ponzi scheme, Reuters reports.

The trustee handling the Madoff fraud case, Irving Picard, said in court documents filed in US Bankruptcy Court in New York in September that Mr Picower, listed as one of the 400 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine, was complicit in the fraud.

Part of Mr Picard's filing said: "Based upon the trustee's investigation to date, Picower was the biggest beneficiary of Madoff's scheme, having withdrawn either directly or through the entities he controlled more than $US7.2 billion of other investors' money."

Mr Picower was being sued for the $US7.2 billion, $US2 billion more than the trustee in the case demanded in May this year.

Madoff found many investors for his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme in the wealthy Palm Beach community where he also had a home, since seized along with other assets.

The collapse of the scheme last December devastated families and charitable foundations in the sunny beachside playground, one of America's richest towns. The scandal led to a number of suicides among participating investors.

In December, Frenchman Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, co-founder of money manager Access International, was found dead with his wrists cut, reportedly distraught over losing up to $US1.4 billion in client money to Madoff's fraud.

In February, former British soldier, William Foxton, 65, killed himself after losing his life savings in the scheme.