Something hit me this past week as I was reviewing the latest Madoff-related complaint to cross my desk. The class action complaint (here), was filed on May 29, 2009 in the Middle District of Florida by a Florida physician who had a Swiss Life variable annuity policy that was invested in the Platinum All Weather Fund (the "Fund"), a mutual fund offered by Nomura. The Fund in turn was invested in certain other investment vehicles that had simply turned their assets over to Madoff. According to the complaint, the entire Fund has now been written down to zero.
The Madoff-related losses alleged in the complaint are all too familiar, but what struck me as I reviewed these latest allegations is what an incredibly far-flung, diverse and many-tentacled monster the Madoff fraud scheme was. And as diverse and dispersed as the consequences of the Madoff scandal have been, so too is the wave of litigation that has followed in the wake of the scheme’s collapse.
When I first started tracking the Madoff-related litigation last December, it seemed like a relatively straightforward undertaking. But now the list of Madoff-related lawsuits (which can be accessed here) runs to some 18 pages, and the lawsuits continue to pour in. In reviewing this now-lengthy and growing catalog of claims, the most striking thing is what a varied assortment of lawsuits the Madoff scandal has produced. Even though there is a great deal of duplication among the claims, the list encompasses a spread and scope of lawsuits that defied brief summarization.
At first, the stream of lawsuits involved the money managers that ran the now-infamous rogues’ gallery of Madoff-related "Feeder Funds," such as Walter Noel, Stanley Chais and Ezra Merkin. Lawsuits involving these individuals and their associated firms continue to come in. But as the lawsuits have piled up, the claims have targeted an ever-broadening array of individuals and entities, as demonstrated by the lawsuit described above against a Swiss insurer and a Japanese investment management firm.
The list of litigation targets includes Spanish and Austrian banks, Cayman Island hedge funds, Irish investment custodians, private banks based on Gibraltar, investment management firms in Luxembourg, and many other individuals and entities spread across the entire globe. The overall impression from this geographically diverse mix of defendants is that until the scheme collapse, the entire world seems to have gone completely Madoff.
Several other recently filed complaints highlight the geographic dispersion of defendants targeted in the Madoff-related lawsuits.
For example, on May 15, 2009, an investor filed a derivative complaint (here) in New York (New York County) Supreme Court against Kingate Global Fund Limited, a British Virgin Island fund, as nominal defendant, as well as against related Kingate entities and individuals. The complaint alleges that the fund was a Madoff feeder fund with substantially all of its assets invested with Madoff or his firm. (On April 17, 2009, Irving Picard, the liquidator of Madoff’s firm, separately filed an action, here, in the Southern District of New York bankruptcy court against Kingate and related funds.)
On May 7, 2009, investors who had purchased limited partnership interests in investment funds offered and managed by Swiss bank Union Bancaire Privée (UBP) and related entities filed a class action complaint (here) in the Southern District of New York against UBP and associated entities and individuals, alleging that the defendants had invested a "material amount of the investment capital of the UBP funds" with Madoff’s firm.
On May 29, 2009, the R.W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania filed a complaint (here) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Meridian Diversified Fund, a Cayman Island "fund of funds" that had invested in the Rye Select Broad Market XL Fund managed by Tremont Partners, which in turn had invested significant assets with Madoff. (The Meridian funds have themselves initiated a separate action, here, against Tremont and related entities.)
The claim diversity is not merely geographic. In looking over the lengthy list of lawsuits, some of the claims seem to have taken their inspiration from the theater for the absurd. For example, there is the pro se complaint (which can be found here and that is described in greater detail here), in which the plaintiff purported to sue, among others, Brittney Spears and Kevin Federline, on Bernard Madoff’s supposed behalf, alleging among other things that Spears had "secret affairs with Madoff in return for Saks Fifth Avenue gift certificates."
Some of the lawsuits reveal the private pain that has accompanied Madoff victims’ losses, as shown for example in the lawsuit (here) filed in New York (New York County) Supreme Court by Steven Simkin against his former wife Laura Blank, in connection with the Madoff-related investment the couple had maintained while married. It appears that in their divorce, Simkin had paid millions to buy out his wife’s share of the Madoff investment, which is now worthless. Simkin’s suit seeks reformation of the agreement in which the couple had divided the marital assets. A tough situation for Mr. Simkin, no doubt; one can only wonder about his former wife’s sympathies for his plight.
So much of this Madoff-related litigation is like that of Mr. Simkin, a desperate bid to salvage something from the losses on now worthless investments. Some of these lawsuits, particularly those against solvent, deep-pocketed defendants potentially could result in substantial recoveries. But in far too many of the other lawsuits, there may be no assets against which to recover, even if the claims are otherwise successful.
In some instances, the defendants may have insurance that these claims could implicate. However, the costs of litigation may erode or even deplete the available limits long before any claimants have a chance to access the policy proceeds. Moreover, in many cases, the same defendants have been targeted so many times by so many different claimants that whatever assets or insurance the targets may have are likely to satisfy only a very small amount of the various plaintiffs’ claims.
Despite these obvious difficulties, the Madoff-related lawsuits continue to pile up. In most instances, the complaints are salvage operations fueled by anger and frustration. The one thing that is clear is that the collapse of Madoff’s fraudulent scheme will be keeping lawyers occupied for years and years to come.
I would be remiss in closing this post if I did not recognize the contributions of the many loyal readers who have provided me with copies of complaints or alerted me to lawsuits that were missing from my list. The list truly is a product of this blog’s community of readers. My very special thanks to all who have contributed.
A Classical Allusion: Readers of a certain age may recognize the title of this post as an allusion to the 1963 movie, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The movie, whose all-star ensemble cast included, among others, Jimmy Durante, Spencer Tracey, Phil Silvers, Sid Caesar, and Jonathan Winters, involves the mad scramble of various drivers to recover the hidden loot revealed in the dying words of the automobile accident victim whose death they all witnessed.
Cherished memories of my childhood enjoyment of this movie motivated me to buy a DVD of the movie for my own children. Suffice it to say that both movie-making and kids’ taste in comedy have changed dramatically in a generation. Even I have to admit that by contrast to the pace of today’s movies, the pace of this movie classic is absolutely glacial. And the slapstick humor I remembered enjoying so much in my youth failed to amuse my kids. After the scene in which an enraged Jonathan Winters destroys a filling station with his bare hands, which I had remembered as hilarious, my then-eight year old son said, "Why would anyone think that is funny?"
Due to this failed attempt to take my family down my own memory lane, my access to the family’s movie queue on Netflix has been permanently barred. And whenever anyone in the house wants to veto a proposed movie, all they have to say is "It’s a classic!" and they can be sure no one will want to watch that particular film.
All of that said, a reference to the 60’s movie and its portrayal of an every-man-for-himself race to try to recover hidden and possibly nonexistent funds seemed particularly apt in connection with a discussion of the Madoff-related litigation scrum.
Even though my kids panned it, I still think the movie is funny. Readers unfamiliar with but curious about the movie may want to watch this trailer which captures the level of the movie’s humor (check out Jimmy Durante "kicking the bucket")