The death in Palm Beach on Sunday of Bernard Madoff's friend and philanthropist Jeffry Picower was ruled an accidental drowning caused by a massive heart attack, officials said.

Palm Beach police issued a short statement about the cause of death after Picower's attorney, William Zabel, made his own similar disclosure based on the findings of an autopsy.

Picower, 67, was unresponsive when his wife, Barbara, and a housekeeper found him in the swimming pool at the family's Palm Beach home, said police. Emergency crews worked for more than 20 minutes to revive Picower, who was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Picower, known for his philanthropy, was dogged in recent months by allegations that he profited to the tune of $7.2 billion from Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Irving Picard, the trustee handling the bankruptcy of Madoff's company, charged in a lawsuit filed in May that the Picowers, their Picower Foundation and various companies they controlled took massive profits that they should have known were the products of a fraud.

Picower denied knowing Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme and pointed out that he had to close his foundation because of losses it and his family sustained from their Madoff investments.

Legal sources who didn't want to be named said Jeffry Picower was the target of a criminal investigation, something that is now moot. But Picard will continue to press the civil case.

"The lawsuit will continue against the Picower estate and the other defendants," Picard said Monday.

How Picower's death would affect Picard's litigation, which is aimed at recouping billions for Madoff's victims, was unclear.

Gerry Reisman, a Garden City attorney who represents a number of Madoff victims, thought that with criminal prosecution no longer an option, the estate could play hardball with Picard.

"I also feel the victims could suffer to the extent a potential settlement with Picower will slow down," said Reisman.

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