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Ponzi Scheme Fallout: Madoff, Meaghan Cheung, René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet and You

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By Admin on January 07, 2009 1:18 PM

Today prosecutors sought to have admitted Ponzi scheme artist Bernard Madoff jailed until his trial. This move came after Madoff and his wife allegedly transferred assets valued over $1 million to friends and family in violation of his bail agreement.

Initially, prosecutors were fine with Madoff remaining under house arrest at his Manhattan penthouse. This was in part due to his purported cooperation with the investigation. As a condition of his bail, Madoff was forbidden from transferring any money, personal or real property under his control. Instead, as the AP reports, he and his wife allegedly sent 13 watches, a diamond necklace, an emerald ring, two pairs of cuff-links and at least two unidentified packages off to friends and relatives.

Meanwhile, bilked investors continue their fight to recover scraps of the billions invested. Investors ranging from the jet set to large charities have been hit hard and in some cases wiped out. Charities including California's Chais Family Foundation, which gave millions annually to Jewish causes worldwide, have had to shut their doors.

The scandal has also claimed at least one life. French financier René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet committed suicide in New York after being "totally ruined" by the Madoff debacle. Along with much of his own fortune, he lost millions in investments on behalf of friends and family to Madoff's alleged fraud.

Though we look to our regulators to root out investment fraud, as the Madoff case illustrates, this is not always the best source of protection. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox admitted "grave concern" over the SEC's failure to detect Madoff's scheme for decades. In today's New York Post, Meghan Cheung, the former chief of the New York SEC branch defended the SEC's work on a 2006 investigation into Madoff. She signed off on closing the investigation due in part to Madoff's cooperation. Despite tips to the SEC that Madoff was operating a giant Ponzi scheme, the 2006 SEC investigation was called off due to SEC regulators being able to find no evidence of fraud.

With high flying investors losing their shirts and the possibility of fraud falling through cracks in regulatory enforcement, how can investors best protect themselves? As is often the case, care up-front offers the best chance of preventing harm. Here are some resources to help investors navigate potential investment decisions and advisors.