What did Ruth Madoff know about her husband's massive Ponzi scheme and when did she know it--

Court documents examined by Newsday suggest the wife of Bernard Madoff didn't know for a period stretching beyond 2000 that he was running a fraud.

The records show Ruth Madoff was co-trustee, along with her sister, Joan Roman, of revocable trusts created by their parents, Saul and Sara Alpern, who died in 1999 and 1996, respectively.

Florida probate court records show that the assets of Sara Alpern's trust were held by Bernard Madoff's company, a fact some legal experts believe raises doubt that Ruth Madoff would have knowingly put her mother's stocks and bonds at risk in a fraud.

Ruth Madoff hasn't been charged with any crimes or been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with the $65-billion Ponzi scheme. But investors and their attorneys claim she must have known of the fraud.

"This is one of the first revelations that maybe she didn't know," said Garden City attorney Jerold Reisman, who is representing several investors bilked by Bernard Madoff.

"I think it is fair to say she may not have known," added Reisman. "All of a sudden my eyes opened . . . there is some degree of doubt [she was involved]."

Wednesday, Newsday reported how the Alpern trust documents divided up the couple's assets. The probate documents showed Sara Alpern's estate was valued at $2.2 million at her death. Saul Alpern's probate estate was valued at about $60,000, although his trust could have contained more assets.

"We have always maintained that Ruth Madoff did not know about any fraud or participate in any fraud," said her attorney, Peter Chavkin. He declined to comment on the import of the trust documents. Federal prosecutors also declined to comment.

A cautious analysis was offered by Manhattan defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt. He said even if Ruth Madoff put trust assets with her husband's company, that doesn't prove anything unless the account statements were analyzed to see what profits may have been removed.

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Ruth Madoff's finances are under scrutiny because federal prosecutors said they want to seize millions of dollars of her assets and real estate when her husband is sentenced June 29.

In addition, special bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard has indicated he might sue Ruth Madoff, her two sons and other family members to recoup company funds allegedly used to pay personal expenses.