For some, Madoff losses smaller than first reported

Yeshiva University and two other clients of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff have concluded that their losses weren’t as bad as originally thought.

Yeshiva University, the American Technion Society and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, released statements this week clarifying their losses.

The three organizations lowered their estimated losses as it became apparent that much of the money that vanished from their balance sheets probably never existed in the first place.

In each case, the adjustment reflected a realization that the huge profits they thought they had made on their investments were probably fiction — meaning their losses were partly fiction, too.

Madoff was arrested Dec. 11 after allegedly telling investigators he lost as much as $50 billion in client money in a giant Ponzi scheme in which money from new investors was used to pay profits to older ones.

Hadassah, which previously said it had $90 million placed with Madoff, clarified in a Dec. 29 letter that two-thirds of that amount — $60 million — constituted the huge, but probably imaginary, profits that Madoff reported to the organization over two decades.

Hadassah’s principal investment with Madoff, the letter said, totaled only $33 million. Another $7 million in Madoff funds, possibly real, possibly fraudulent, were donated by a French backer in 1988.

The American Technion Society, which provides support for one of Israel’s leading science schools, made a similar calculation. Its initial investment with Madoff totaled $29 million. On paper, that grew to $72 million, but those profits probably weren’t real either.

Yeshiva University said its principal investment with Madoff had totaled only $14.5 million, and that most of the $110 million in losses it had originally reported were phantom profits, too.

Their disclosures illustrate one of the primary difficulties Madoff’s investors will have in figuring out how much they are entitled to recover if funds are ever found to reimburse victims.

While some of his clients invested recently, others had put modest amounts of money into Madoff’s hands decades ago and had been enjoying “profits” ever since.

For some, Madoff’s steady annual returns of 10 percent or more ultimately produced vast sums of income that exceeded their initial investment — meaning they unknowingly enjoyed the fruits of an alleged fraud at the expense of newcomers who never had time to take out profits.

The process of separating fact from fiction could take years.

It could be especially complicated at some of the huge hedge funds that pooled money from many well-heeled investors, then placed it in Madoff’s hands.

The exact details of who lost what might not become apparent until either Madoff or authorities reveal more about how his operation worked.

Madoff name bringing in bucks online

Bernard Madoff may have ruined fortunes, but a few lucky people are profiting off the scandal surrounding the disgraced money manager.

On eBay, sellers are making money off Madoff’s proclivity for putting his firm’s name on everything from T-shirts to beach towels, tote bags and umbrellas.

Madoff items for sale on eBay include insulated coolers, binoculars, golf caps and flashlights. Several eBay postings are prodding buyers to “own a piece of history!”

On Jan. 5, nine bidders were hoping to take home one of several Madoff Securities fleece jackets; the highest bidder had offered $127.50, with five days left on the auction.

Also up for bid was a photocopy of a financial statement Madoff put out for a client, postmarked Dec. 3, a week before his Dec. 11 arrest. The seller, from Glen Cove, N.Y., said the actual document may be put up for sale later.

The publishing industry also is cashing in on the Madoff scandal. HarperCollins and Random House have each announced that they had lined up books about the scandal.

In 2010, HarperCollins will release an investigative work, currently untitled, by reporter-anchor Andrew Kirtzman, who has been featured on the New York television stations WCBS and NY1. Random House will publish a Madoff book, also currently untitled, by Richard Behar, a journalist who has written for Time, Fortune and other magazines.