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Opinion: Feds now target Ruth Madoff, who claims $70 million hers to keep

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Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty in a New York courtroom today to a $65-billion Ponzi scheme that should keep him in jail for the rest of his life. ‘I am deeply sorry,’ he told the court, adding that he ‘concealed my fraud’ by giving false reports to federal regulators.

But because there’s no plea deal, the no-longer-presumed-innocent Madoff has no obligation to cooperate with officials still investigating the case, no need to tell them where the money was buried or who might have helped him.

So, federal investigators are opening their own separate track, looking into allegations that Madoff’s wife, Ruth, and other family members helped hide some of the money that their patriarch swindled from charities, nonprofit organizations and wealthy individuals all over the country.

Ruth Madoff, believed to have received at least $70 million in property and assets from her husband, has hired her own attorney. And the Securities and Exchange Commission, in cooperation with British banks, is said to be exploring action against British banks that may have helped transfer funds to her.

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As victims testified in court this morning about how Madoff had wiped out their family assets -- some who arrived at the courthouse two hours before it opened to assure them a place in line -- criticism continued over the SEC’s botched handling of the case.

As the Ticket reported, whistle blower Harry Markopolos told a House committee last month that he repeatedly tried to warn the SEC about Madoff. He also said he knew in five minutes that the financier was a fraud because his earnings statement went in a straight 45-degree angle upward -- never encountering a single down day.

But it was the story of Ruth Madoff -- the pair were high school sweethearts and have been married for 50 years -- that continued to draw interest. As the New York Daily News reported, investigators were zeroing in on a pair of his wife’s curiously timed wire transfers totaling $15.5 million just before he turned himself in.

‘She’s even more of a repulsive sociopath than Bernie,’ Madoff victim and bestselling author Alexandra Penney said in a rant on the Daily Beast. And attorney Jerry Reisman, who represents 14 victims who lost a combined $150 million, told the New York Daily News: ‘This is stolen money, the fruits of the crime -- and it must be returned. Why should she continue to live a life of luxury while the victims are penniless?’

-- Johanna Neuman

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