A last-minute rush by investors, including one who drove from Mexico to Dallas to beat the July 2 deadline, pushed the final number of claims in the Bernard Madoff fraud to more than 15,000, officials said Friday.

Investors e-mailed, FedEx-ed, mailed and walked their claims into a central processing office in Dallas, as well as the Rockefeller Center office of special trustee Irving Picard. It will now be up to Picard's staff at Baker & Hostetler to sort out which claims are valid and deserve up to $500,000 from a special fund.

"We have a lot of work to do," acknowledged David Sheehan, who is counsel for Picard.

Previously, officials reported that about 8,000 claims had been received in connection with the Ponzi scheme for which Madoff received a 150-year prison sentence earlier this week.

Valid claims will be eligible for up to a $500,000 payment from the Securities Investor Protection Corp., the nonprofit group that advances funds to cheated investors.

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So far 543 claims have been approved for payments totaling $231 million. But with more than 15,000 claims to be reviewed, other investors may have to wait months to find out if they are eligible.

Officials said some investors were reluctant to file claims because they were afraid of being sued by Picard for money they withdrew that exceeded what they put into their accounts. But Sheehan said he was pleasantly surprised with the volume of claims; 1,400 claims were filed in the 48 hours before the deadline, said one investigator.

Sheehan said the claims came from a mix of individual investors and feeder funds that invested their clients' money with Madoff. Clients of feeder funds also filed, said Sheehan. A full breakdown of the total number of claims should be available next week, he said.

Picard's staff also has been locating Madoff business funds, which will be used to reimburse investors a portion of what isn't covered by their SIPC payments.

Officials now believe $13 billion to $21 billion was lost in the scheme. Those numbers cover actual cash investments - not the false profits reported by Madoff - put in the accounts from 1995 until Dec 11, 2008. It is still unclear what percentage of losses will be covered when Picard is done.