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New York - The Lawyer Behind The $10B Haul For Madoff Victims

Published on: May 1, 2011 01:06 PM
By: AP
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FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2010 file photo, Irving Picard, Securities Investor Protection Act Trustee, left, is joined by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara during a news conference, in New York. Self-effacing and reserved, Picard is America's most unlikely celebrity lawyer, and perhaps its most underrated. He's filed 1,000 suits in 30 countries since appointed official bloodhound in search of victims' money _ and defied expectations with his haul: $10 billion so far, or half of what was deposited with Bernard Madoff when he was arrested two years ago. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2010 file photo, Irving Picard, Securities Investor Protection Act Trustee, left, is joined by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara during a news conference, in New York. Self-effacing and reserved, Picard is America's most unlikely celebrity lawyer, and perhaps its most underrated. He's filed 1,000 suits in 30 countries since appointed official bloodhound in search of victims' money _ and defied expectations with his haul: $10 billion so far, or half of what was deposited with Bernard Madoff when he was arrested two years ago. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)

New York - Everyone’s mad at Irving Picard.

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To be fair, his job is thankless. He is the court-appointed bloodhound in charge of hunting down money for the victims of Bernard Madoff, a man who was so skilled at hiding money that he kept the biggest scam in the history of American finance going for at least two decades.

Wall Street hates him. Picard has sued more than a dozen banks, including several whose big link to the Ponzi scheme was one step removed — helping people bet on funds that bet on the fund run by Madoff.

Fans of the New York Mets, which have enough problems on the field, are angry at him for suing the team’s owners for $1 billion, just when they are trying to find new owners and are still reeling from their own Madoff-related losses.

And most bizarrely, some of the people Madoff ripped off say Picard has screwy ideas about the law and is making them victims all over again by demanding they hand back “fictitious profits” that many have already spent.

A little more than two years into the job, the 69-year-old Picard, who was plucked from obscurity to recover the money, has become America’s most unlikely celebrity lawyer, and perhaps its most underrated.

He has filed more than 1,000 suits in 30 countries, and defied expectations by bringing in $10 billion so far. That’s half of what he estimates investors lost in principal when Madoff was arrested, though not as impressive compared with the phony $65 billion that Madoff claimed they had.

To make a bigger dent, Picard will have to wrest money from those banks he’s sued. It won’t be easy. Picard says they saw plenty of red flags and had an obligation to warn investors. The banks say Picard has gotten his facts wrong and his legal logic is flawed. Some prominent attorneys seem to agree.

“He’s pushing the envelope,” says Harvey Miller, a well-known bankruptcy lawyer at Weil, Gotshal & Manges who has known Picard for decades. “What is the duty of banks and financial institutions? It’s a gray area of the law.”

Self-effacing and mild-mannered, Picard is not the first person you would associate with aggressive legal tactics and a ruthless hunt for money. Then again, he’s difficult to pin down, a blend of seemingly conflicting characteristics.

Picard, a lawyer at Baker & Hostetler, turned down an interview request from The Associated Press, but two dozen friends, acquaintances and colleagues who did agree to talk describe a man whose deferential manner belies his tenacity, someone who can seem alternately pragmatic and idealistic, shrewd and empathetic.

“I don’t know personally what it’s like to lose everything,” he told Geraldine Ponto, a colleague at Baker, referring to Madoff victims. “But I understand it in others. It’s in my DNA.”

Picard is the youngest child of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Classmates of Picard remember a modest, quiet kid with an appetite for hard work.

After the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University law school, he landed a job as a lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he rose to oversee a legal team handling bankruptcy cases. He gained a reputation as someone who wasn’t hidebound by the agency’s old practices, and for a human touch.

Charles Tatelbaum, a lawyer trying to get money back from a Mafia-linked trucking firm overseen by Picard’s lawyers after it fell into bankruptcy, recalls a half-dozen calls from Picard after news broke that the mob had put a contract out on his life and everyone else seemed to be shunning him.

“I couldn’t get a date for six months. My veterinarian wouldn’t even see my cat,” Tatelbaum says. “But Irving would call — ‘Are you all right? Is there anything I can do?’ ”

Colleagues from those years fill in another aspect of his personality: He is whistle-clean and intensely private, perhaps to an extreme.

His reputation as industrious eventually caught the attention of the Securities Investor Protection Corp., a quasi-public group that oversees a fund to compensate customers of failed brokerage firms like the one run by Madoff. SIPC ended up hiring Picard to hunt for money in 10 of their cases, more than any other lawyer. It was SIPC that hired Picard as Madoff trustee in December 2008, citing recoveries in his previous work.


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Read Comments (5)  —  Post Yours »

1

 May 01, 2011 at 03:33 PM Anonymous Says:

This guy Picard has an odd idea of who was a victim and who wasn't in the Madoff scheme. He is nothing more than a bully with a law degree.

2

 May 01, 2011 at 05:42 PM JackC Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

This guy Picard has an odd idea of who was a victim and who wasn't in the Madoff scheme. He is nothing more than a bully with a law degree.

It is hard to cut the baby fairly in this case. The courts have agreed that if Jacob got a lot over what he put in, and Joseph lost a lot, the amount that Jacob got over what he put it should go to Joseph since it was all fraudulent to begin with.

3

 May 01, 2011 at 06:31 PM Anonymous Says:

If you were an investor in some corporation (say Enron), made money and sold at a profit, unless you were part of the fraud, it's not your duty to compensate the losers.

4

 May 01, 2011 at 10:01 PM Mentsch613 Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

If you were an investor in some corporation (say Enron), made money and sold at a profit, unless you were part of the fraud, it's not your duty to compensate the losers.

Your opinion is not the law. Both secular law and halacha recognizes that you may not profit from stolen money. The fact that you were innocent of the fraud doesn't make it ethical for you to keep stolen money.
I am all for the draconian methods Picard is using. The only way to prevent future frauds is to make it clear that all parties involved will have to settle up.

5

 May 03, 2011 at 04:59 PM awacs Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

If you were an investor in some corporation (say Enron), made money and sold at a profit, unless you were part of the fraud, it's not your duty to compensate the losers.

Except that, here, you *didn't* make money. You were paid bogus returns out of other people's money. Those other people would like their money back.

6

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