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Vern Buchanan tells Justice Department ‘pay up’ for Bernie Madoff victims

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Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan wants the Department of Justice to begin paying the victims of Bernie Madoff‘s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme with some of the recovered funds.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Buchanan points out that the victims of Madoff’s crime have yet to receive a penny from the $4 billion victim fund created in 2012, four years after federal authorities apprehended Madoff.

“It is outrageous that victims languish in hardship while government-sanctioned administrators collect millions in fees,” Buchanan said.

Bloomberg News reported last week that Madoff Victim Fund administrator Richard Breeden was hired by the U.S. to distribute $4 billion to Madoff’s victims, but investors are still waiting for their first checks.

Breeden’s fees, paid from cash in the fund, covered his work through 2016.

After New York, where the investment company was based, Florida is home to the largest number of Madoff victims. As reported by the Miami Herald, Madoff’s client list shows nearly one in five of his customers hailed from Florida.

“These victims, many of whom are from Sarasota and Southwest Florida, are being victimized twice,” Buchanan writes. “They were cheated out of their life savings and now they’re being denied timely compensation from a fund that was specifically set up to help them. It is a disgrace that the process of reimbursement has yet to begin.”

The compensation fund was created in December 2012 by the Justice Department to repay thousands of Madoff’s victims after the U.S. seized $2.4 billion from the estate of one of his biggest investors, the late Jeffry Picower. The fund grew by $1.7 billion following a 2014 forfeiture deal with Madoff’s bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., which was accused of turning a blind eye to the scam.

“These victims, many of whom are from Sarasota and Southwest Florida, are being victimized twice,” Buchanan writes. “They were cheated out of their life savings and now they’re being denied timely compensation from a fund that was specifically set up to help them. It is a disgrace that the process of reimbursement has yet to begin.”

Buchanan’s letter comes while Madoff is on the minds of many Americans this month, with HBO airing “The Wizard of Lies,” a biopic directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert DeNiro as Madoff.

You can read Buchanan’s entire letter to Sessions below:

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

Despite the government’s recovery of billions of dollars from Bernie Madoff, victims of his Ponzi scheme have yet to receive a single dollar, while tens of millions of dollars have been spent on administrative costs. I urge you to correct this injustice immediately.

It has been more than eight years since Mr. Madoff’s arrest. His massive, multi-decade fraud ruined the lives of thousands of investors, many of whom lost their lifetime and retirement savings. To date, the Justice Department has recovered more than $4 billion for Mr. Madoff’s victims and established a fund to distribute this money in 2012.

Not a single dollar has been paid to these victims. Yet, the firm hired to oversee the fund has received more than $38 million in payments. It is outrageous that victims languish in hardship while government-sanctioned administrators collect millions in fees.

For seniors, Mr. Madoff’s crimes were particularly damaging. Rather than enjoying the comfortable retirement for which they spent decades saving, these victims have been forced to struggle in their golden years. Residents in my home state and congressional district were greatly impacted by this colossal swindle. As reported by the Miami Herald, according to Madoff’s client list, nearly one in five of his customers hailed from Florida.

These victims, many of whom are from Sarasota and Southwest Florida, are being victimized twice. They were cheated out of their life savings and now they’re being denied timely compensation from a fund that was specifically set up to help them. It is a disgrace that the process of reimbursement has yet to begin.

Shortly before Mr. Madoff pleaded guilty to his crimes, newspapers in the area I represent published local victims’ stories. One man who had transferred all his retirement money to Madoff said “I’m 64 and I’m barely holding on. I’m still paying my bills but I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do that.”

Another local victim said that his “whole family was affected,” including his 86-year-old mother who was forced to sell the home she had lived in since 1958.

It has been said that justice delayed is justice denied. That is particularly true for seniors that were victimized by Mr. Madoff.

Given Florida’s large number of victims, I want to know why this process is taking so long, and what steps your department will take to ensure the firm moves immediately to distribute repayments.

I urge you to do all you can to expedite payment to these victims. Money should be flowing to victims, not bureaucratic overhead.

Sincerely,

Vern Buchanan

Member of Congress

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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