By The Associated Press
NEW YORK – Every day for two years, he carried the toxic burden of a name that meant fraud to the world. On Saturday, the eldest son of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff hanged himself in his Manhattan apartment, another casualty in the saga that sent his father to prison and swindled thousands of their life savings.
On the second anniversary of the day his father was arrested in the worst investment fraud in American history, Mark Madoff, 46, was found dead in the living room of his SoHo loft. He was hanging from a black dog leash while his 2-year-old son slept nearby.
People close to him said he was despondent over press coverage of his father’s case, an ongoing criminal investigation of Madoff family members in the multibillion-dollar scheme and his struggle to rebuild his life.
The intense scrutiny approaching the anniversary “became too much for him,” said a person who had recent contact with him, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Mark Madoff’s wife, Stephanie, sent her stepfather to the couple’s $6 million dollar apartment after he e-mailed her at Disney World in Florida, where she was vacationing with their 4-year-old daughter. In the messages, he told her he loved her and should check on their 2-year-old child, Nicholas, police said. He left no suicide note.
The person who had recent contact with Madoff said he was struggling to find steady employment and was upset by coverage of his father’s case, including a slew of stories in the past week about investor lawsuits.
“This is a terrible and unnecessary tragedy,” Mark Madoff’s attorney, Martin Flumenbaum said in a written statement. “Mark was an innocent victim of his father’s monstrous crime who succumbed to two years of unrelenting pressure from false accusations and innuendo.”
Mark Madoff and his brother Andrew, who notified authorities their father had confessed to them the day before he was arrested on Dec. 11, 2008, have said they were unaware of his crimes. But they have remained under investigation and been named in the multiple civil lawsuits accusing them of profiting from the scheme.
Another law enforcement official said Saturday that Madoff’s arrest was not imminent, and that investigators pursuing possible charges against him, his brother and uncle hadn’t contacted him for more than a year. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bernard Madoff, 72, swindled a long list of investors out of billions of dollars. He admitted that he ran his scheme for at least two decades, cheating thousands of individuals, charities, celebrities and institutional investors. Losses are estimated at around $20 billion, making it the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history. He is serving a 150-year prison term in North Carolina.
The scandal has resulted in a half dozen arrests of Madoff associates and put a harsh light on members of the family, which has splintered since Madoff’s arrest. Both brothers hadn’t spoken to their parents since they turned their father in.
The financier’s brother, Peter, played a prominent role in the family’s company. Mark and Andrew Madoff both worked on a trading desk at the firm, on a side of the business that wasn’t directly involved in the Ponzi scheme.
In February, Mark Madoff’s wife asked a court to change her last name and the last names of their two children to Morgan, saying her family had gotten threats and was humiliated by the scandal.
A year ago, the court-appointed trustee trying to unravel Bernard Madoff’s financial affairs sued several relatives, including sons Mark and Andrew and Madoff’s brother, Peter, accusing them of failing to detect the fraud while living lavish lifestyles financed with the family’s ill-gotten fortune.
The lawsuit accused Mark Madoff of using $66 million he received improperly to buy luxury homes in New York City, Nantucket and Connecticut.
Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said Saturday she didn’t have specific information on whether Bernard Madoff had been informed of his son’s death or would be allowed to attend a service. In general, she said, inmates are informed of a relative’s death as soon as the institution is made aware of it. The bureau does allow furloughs for prisoners to attend memorial services.
A police officer stood guard in the lobby of Mark Madoff’s 12-story luxury loft apartment building in SoHo Saturday morning.
The building sits on a busy block abutting Broadway in an area crowded with clothing boutiques, cafes and art galleries. The sidewalks and cobblestone streets near the apartment were packed with Christmas shoppers Saturday, as dozens of reporters stood vigil.
Bystanders gawked as officials from the medical examiner’s office removed the body early Saturday afternoon. The medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Madoff graduated from the University of Michigan and was a licensed broker with his father’s firm since 1987. He grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., and has two other children from a previous marriage, ages 18 and 16.
He and his first wife Susan divorced about 10 years ago. She had no comment.
Messages left with Andrew Madoff, Peter Madoff and the father-in-law Martin London were not returned Saturday. The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office declined comment, as did an attorney for the sons’ mother, Ruth.
Ronnie Sue Ambrosino, who leads a group of Madoff victims who have been fighting for restitution in the case, said the death is just more evidence of the pain the case has wrought.
“It’s sad. It’s very, very sad that any life is taken,” she said. “It’s so wasteful.”
She said she doubted any of the victims were taking pleasure in the Madoff family’s sorrow. “That’s not going to help the Madoff victims find the justice and the restitution they deserve.”
Associated Press writers David B. Caruso, Verena Dobnik, and Larry Neumeister in New York and Page Ivey in Columbia, S.C. contributed to this report.