It seems like every time I turn around, some other notable person is lamenting their losses in Bernard Madoff's now-infamous Ponzi scheme. My parents-in-law live in West Palm Beach, not far from the ritzy country clubs where Madoff conned a great many people; the shockwaves of their losses are still reverberating through South Florida. A friend of mine's aunt is a notable Los Angeles restaurateur -- she even started a restaurant with uber-chef Mario Batali -- and lost a humbling sum in the Madoff scheme. There are lots of regular-joe victims, and an increasing number of celebrities are coming out of the Madoff closet. Here are a few you might be surprised to hear about.
Holocaust survivor, acclaimed author and noted philanthropist Elie Weisel lost most of his personal wealth in the Madoff scheme. Worse still, Weisel's famous charity lost as much as $15.2 million. Interviewed by the New York Times, Weisel fantasized about a punishment for the man about whom he says "'psychopath' is too nice a word" -- "I would like him to be in a solitary cell with only a screen, and on that screen for at least five years of his life, every day and every night, there should be pictures of his victims, one after the other after the other, all the time a voice saying, "˜Look what you have done to this old lady, look what you have done to that child, look what you have done,' nothing else."
Senator Frank Lautenberg
The New Jersey senator is the second oldest (after the venerable Robert Byrd of West Virginia). Born to a poor family of immigrants who sold coal and worked in mills and factories to make ends meet, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps, so to speak, after serving in the signal corps during WWII. It's perhaps ironic that several of the bills Lautenberg has championed most loudly were designed to increase penalties for those convicted of theft (specifically carjacking), and that in 2006 he described the Dubai World Ports bill as a "deal with the devil." He certainly made a deal with the devil -- unwittingly, maybe -- and lost an undisclosed sum in doing so.
Fairfield County, Connecticut
According to Bloomberg News: First Selectman Ken Flatto and other elected officials in Fairfield, Connecticut, thought the 58,000- person town's pension fund was holding up well amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The 18 percent decline in total assets since the end of June looked smart compared with the 31 percent plunge in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, and total assets of $286 million left a cushion over the $270 million of estimated liabilities. Flatto's mood darkened yesterday when he heard Bernard Madoff, a Wall Street executive who oversaw $42 million of the assets, had been arrested and charged with fraud. "We classified this on our portfolio as one of the more conservative investments," Flatto said in an interview. "You rely on your experts and your managers to be honest."
The CEO of Dreamworks reportedly had "millions" tied up with Madoff. It's also been reported that a charity foundation of Katzenberg's pal Steven Spielberg -- the Wunderkinder Foundation -- was hit hard.
The dynamo Spanish director of such films as Talk to Her -- whom Penelope Cruz thanked whilst grasping her brand-new Oscar for essentially making her career happen -- had a great deal of the funds of their production company, El Deseo, invested with a firm that in turn had invested heavily with Madoff. This truly was the Ponzi scheme heard 'round the world.