The U.S. Department of Justice started distributing money to victims of fraudster Bernie Madoff this week and a Florida congressman, who has been active on the issue, says it is about time.
On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and FBI official William Sweeney announced the Madoff Victim Fund has begun distributing parts of the $4 billion million that the federal government recovered from companies affiliated with Madoff who scammed more than 24,000 victims. Around 20 percent of Madoff’s victims came from Florida.
“Thanks to civil asset forfeiture, the Department of Justice is announcing today the record-setting distribution of restitution to victims of Bernard Madoff’s notorious investment fraud scheme,” Rosenstein said. “We have recovered billions of dollars from third parties – not Mr. Madoff – and are now returning that money to tens of thousands of victims. This is the largest restoration of forfeited property in history.”
That’s welcome news to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who has focused on justice for Madoff victims in recent months.
“I’m pleased the government is finally beginning to compensate the victims but it should have happened much sooner,” Buchanan said on Thursday. “These people were cheated out of their life savings and have been waiting years to get some of their money back. It’s long overdue.”
Back in May, Buchanan wrote U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an effort to speed up payments to Madoff victims. Buchanan noted that Madoff victims had not been paid from a group that is supposed to distribute $4 billion to them and he called on the DOJ to step in and expedite the process, even as the firm in charge of dispersing the money had been paid almost $40 million for its services.
When he wrote Sessions on the matter back in May, Buchanan noted one in five of Madoff’s victims came from Florida. Only New York had more Madoff victims than the Sunshine State.
“Despite the government’s recovery of billions of dollars from Bernie Madoff, victims of his Ponzi scheme have yet to receive a single dollar, while tens of millions of dollars have been spent on administrative costs. I urge you to correct this injustice immediately,” Buchanan wrote Sessions. “It has been more than eight years since Mr. Madoff’s arrest. His massive, multi-decade fraud ruined the lives of thousands of investors, many of whom lost their lifetime and retirement savings. To date, the Justice Department has recovered more than $4 billion for Mr. Madoff’s victims, and established a fund to distribute this money in 2012.
“Not a single dollar has been paid to these victims,” Buchanan added. “Yet, the firm hired to oversee the fund has received more than $38 million in payments. It is outrageous that victims languish in hardship while government-sanctioned administrators collect millions in fees. For seniors, Mr. Madoff’s crimes were particularly damaging. Rather than enjoying the comfortable retirement for which they spent decades saving, these victims have been forced to struggle in their golden years. Residents in my home state and congressional district were greatly impacted by this colossal swindle. As reported by the Miami Herald, according to Madoff’s client list, nearly one in five of his customers hailed from Florida.
“These victims, many of whom are from Sarasota and Southwest Florida, are being victimized twice. They were cheated out of their life savings and now they’re being denied timely compensation from a fund that was specifically set up to help them. It is a disgrace that the process of reimbursement has yet to begin,” Buchanan continued. “It has been said that justice delayed is justice denied. That is particularly true for seniors that were victimized by Mr. Madoff. Given Florida’s large number of victims, I want to know why this process is taking so long, and what steps your department will take to ensure the firm moves immediately to distribute repayments.
“I urge you to do all you can to expedite payment to these victims. Money should be flowing to victims, not bureaucratic overhead,” Buchanan concluded.