A New York auction of the spoils of Bernard Madoff’s fraud raised more than $2 million for his victims -- as souvenir hunters snapped up his canopy bed, footwear and even his underwear.
Almost 500 lots, featuring more suits, sweaters and shoes than a man can wear in a lifetime, were sold in the ballroom of a Midtown Manhattan hotel on Nov. 13. The 9½-hour marathon was enlivened by feverish bidding and hollering by auctioneers from Gaston & Sheehan, a company based in Pflugerville, Texas.
More than 200 collectors and dealers competed for bargains or mementos of Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Tally Wiener, 35, a former associate with the law firm Brown Rudnick LLP, spent about $30,000, including $2,250 for the bed. Wiener said she worked on the liquidation of Fairfield Sentry Ltd., which invested with Madoff, and wanted to aid victims.
“The king-size bed is bigger than my living room,” Wiener said in an interview, adding that her bids heated up the auction room, helping create a buzz at the sale. “I don’t know what came over me,” she said.
Wiener said she may reauction some of the 16 lots she bought to benefit investors of Fairfield Sentry. Wiener also plans to seek out Ruth Madoff and offer her the bed, “if she wants it.”
The sale was overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service under tight security. Madoff, 72, is in a North Carolina prison serving a 150-year sentence.
All items were recovered from the fraudster’s East Side penthouse and Montauk, Long Island, beach house, both of which have been sold. The most expensive lot was a 10.5-carat diamond ring that fetched $550,000, beating its high presale estimate by $200,000.
It was bought by a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a tweed jacket who wouldn’t identify himself or his motivation.
“It’s all going to play out shortly,” he told the two dozen journalists who engulfed him. “I’d just as soon not talk about it.”
The auctioneer Bob Sheehan, of closely held Gaston & Sheehan, said the emerald-cut stone “supposedly” was Mrs. Madoff’s engagement ring.
More than 200 pairs of Madoff’s shoes were sold. One lot of 18 pairs, of new size 9 “Mr. Casual” from the Manhattan store Belgian Shoes, fetched $2,900, more than double the high presale estimate.
A man who declined to identify himself had his eye on a pair of black velveteen slippers, with the initials BLM embroidered in gold thread. They sold for $6,000.
Another unidentified man paid $1,700 for 11 pairs of designer boxer shorts -- all new, according to the catalog -- accompanied by more than 200 pairs of socks, some new, some not so new.
Empty photo albums and picture frames went for $1,000. A leather footstool depicting a bull went for $3,300, almost 10 times its presale high estimate of $360.
“The word that comes to mind is silly,” said James Flaig, 57, a legal secretary who deposited the required $500 to register for the sale and didn’t bid. “If Jesus Christ had owned it, I still wouldn’t pay these prices.”
Alan Richardson, a Miami jewelry and collectibles dealer, spent about $400,000 on jewelry and luxury watches. He said prices were lower than at a smaller Madoff sale a year ago, also at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers. Proceeds from both go to a fund to benefit those who lost money in Madoff’s scheme.
“Prices are high for junk,” Richardson said. “The really good stuff wasn’t expensive at all.”
Richardson said the Madoff provenance doesn’t command much of a premium in the secondary market.
“It’s like owning Hitler’s stuff,” he said. “He wasn’t a good guy.”
Madoff’s Steinway & Sons grand piano went for $42,000.
“It’s got a little bit of history to it, and it’s hysterical,” real estate developer John Rodger, of East Islip on Long Island, told reporters after placing the winning bid. “It makes it a conversation piece.”
All items were sold without commissions. The presale estimate of the total was $1.5 to $2 million.
As of Sept. 30, approximately $1.5 billion was recovered for Madoff’s investors, the trustee overseeing Madoff’s bankruptcy, Irving Picard, said in a report.
At the time of his arrest, Madoff’s account statements reflected 4,900 accounts with $65 billion in nonexistent investments, according to Picard. Investors lost about $20 billion in principal.
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