x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bernie Madoff's treasures and trifles up for auction

Auction of belongings of disgraced financier, including bed linens, shampoo, watches and art, is intended to benefit victims of biggest Ponzi scheme in history

A cameraman films a bedroom set belonging to Bernard Madoff ahead of the US Marshals Service auction.
A cameraman films a bedroom set belonging to Bernard Madoff ahead of the US Marshals Service auction.

"Begin your own tradition." That's the slogan of Patek Philippe's latest advertising campaign, aiming to persuade fathers to splash out on expensive Swiss watches that they will then pass on to their sons. Unfortunately for Bernie Madoff, the disgraced and failed financier, his gold Patek Philippe will be auctioned today, along with many other personal items, at a Manhattan hotel to raise money to reimburse his duped investors.

Madoff, the architect of the world's largest Ponzi scheme, spent lavishly all the while the money was rolling in, filling his homes with luxury goods - and with everyday items such as underwear, slippers and T-shirts, all monogrammed "BLM". But his two sons, once they discovered the extent of his fraud, turned him in to the police. Now they are watching their gold-plated "tradition" go under the hammer.

The sale includes bed linens, clothing, cookware, luggage and intimate items such as used socks, cuticle scissors and even bottles of shampoo. There  are also artworks, more than a dozen luxury watches and antique furniture.

"He loved shoes and spent a lot of money on 250 pairs – some never worn," said Bob Sheehan, the auctioneer conducting the sale for the US Marshals Service, which seized Madoff's properties and ordered his wife to vacate them.

There are 44 men's sport coats, size 42. Two dozen worsted double-breasted suits are estimated at a total of US$480 (Dh1,762) to $690. And there are hundreds of sweaters, polo shirts and custom-made, monogrammed Charvet dress shirts, as well as clothing owned by his wife, Ruth.

"On the clothing, I don't know if I would say compulsive," Mr Sheehan said. "But once they had a style of sweater, they bought one in every colour."

If you wear size 9 shoes, there are bargains to be had. About 100 pairs of his "Mr Casual" models hail from the Manhattan shoe store Belgian Shoes. They retail for $350 and up, according to the store's website.

In one lot, the auction offers 18 new pairs for just $50 a pair. In another lot, 15 pairs of his wife's Prada shoes and Ralph Lauren shoes and boots are estimated at $270 to $380. She wears American size 8. Jill Sander, Armani and Jimmy Choo are also represented.

The auction offers mementos of Madoff's life before he was turned in by his sons, pleaded guilty to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history and began a 150-year federal prison term.

There is the platinum custom ring set with an emerald cut diamond that Bernie gave Ruth for their engagement, according to the Marshals Service (estimate: $300,000-$350,000). The Madoffs slept in an early-19th-century George III mahogany and satinwood tester bed ($8,000 to $11,400, mattress not included). They ate on a Regency mahogany dining table with two leaves, seating at least 10 ($3,000 to $4,000). Included in a lot of women's ski clothes and hats is a baseball cap adorned with "Atlantic Golf Club", the country club in Bridgehampton, New York ($180 to $260).

Proceeds from the 489 lots with an estimated pre-sale worth of $1.5 million will go to the US justice department's Asset Forfeiture Fund. An auction last year of Madoff's property raised $1m.

Not everything for sale is as tasteful as a Swiss watch. The trader cherished the winning bull in every form – as statues, paintings and even names for his boats ("Bull," "Sitting Bull" and "Little Bull").

The man who deceived thousands of investors also collected masks that were scattered around his home. On display at Brooklyn's Navy Yard are three wooden masks with Native American motifs, all stained red. They are expected to fetch $210 to $240. A leather bull foot stool, including a tail that had fallen off , is valued at $250 to $360.

Madoff's winning streak came to an end on December 11, 2008, when he was arrested and charged with running a multibillion dollar pyramid scheme.

He quickly admitted the scheme and investigators said that he might never have traded securities for his customers and instead used billions of dollars from new investors to pay old ones, cheating charities, celebrities and institutional investors. Prosecutors estimate he defrauded at least 3,000 investors.

Madoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Now 72, he is at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.

Today's auction at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers will be the last sale of Madoff belongings in New York. The sale of his Manhattan penthouse raised $8m. A third and final auction is to be held in Florida to sell items from a Palm Beach home that sold for more than $5.5m.

* with agencies

rwright@thenational.ae