The trustee cleaning up the disaster left by Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff said that a lot of high rollers in the investment fraud can expect to be hit with massive clawback lawsuits in the next couple of weeks after failing to come forward with evidence of financial hardships.
In court papers filed late Thursday night, trustee Irving Picard said he is obligated to file the lawsuits to recover billions of dollars turned over to investors.
Some Madoff investors are considered "net winners" because they took out more money than they originally invested, Picard said.
The filings appear to be the last bit of saber rattling by Picard to force some investors to fork over cash they received from Madoff. He said in court papers that those who settle their cases before being sued will be guaranteed anonymity.
Investigators said some $21 billion was actually invested with Madoff, although his bogus records showed that customer accounts totaled $64.8 billion. Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to 11 charges, including securities fraud and money laundering and is serving a 150-year term in federal prison.
Small investors, as well as those who have come forward with tales of hardship and shared financial information with Picard's staff, seem to be safe from clawback litigation.
But because a very small number of net winners have cooperated with his staff, Picard said he "expects to commence" clawback lawsuits against many who profited.
Picard didn't say in court papers when he would start filing the cases. But because a court hearing about the lawsuit procedures is scheduled for Nov. 4 in bankruptcy court, the clawback cases aren't expected to begin in earnest until then.
Picard has already filed lawsuits against investors such as the late Jeffry Picower, who allegedly reaped $7.2 billion from Madoff, a case which is now in settlement negotiations. The new round of lawsuits is expected to target investors who took out anywhere from $10 million to in excess of $100 million from their accounts over what they originally invested.
Jerry Reisman, a Garden City attorney representing numerous Madoff victims, said Friday he thought lawsuits would only extend the investors' anguish.
"Everyone has suffered here, everyone has suffered financial pain," he said. "They were taken advantage by a fraudster, Madoff. They should not be taken advantage of again by Picard."
A Picard spokesman couldn't be reached late Friday.