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A Roster of the Rich and Famous, Now Angry and Embarrassed

There was a time — was it only two months ago? — when people would have been proud to be on a list of Bernard L. Madoff’s customers. They had made the cut, and their money was getting the Madoff touch, growing steadily and solidly in good times and bad.

There they would be, among boldfaced names from the real estate world, the sports community, the arts and the corner offices of American business.

Today that list is an exhibit in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, part of the paperwork documenting the annihilation of Madoff’s magic and his customers’ money. The boldfaced names have become red-faced, angry and perhaps embarrassed to find themselves caught in what prosecutors say is by far the largest Ponzi scheme in modern history.

According to the criminal charges filed when he was arrested on Dec. 11, Madoff himself confessed that investors’ losses could be as high as $50 billion, with the victims ranging from hedge funds to housekeepers. The many thousands of everyday investors who have lost all the savings entrusted to Madoff will get no comfort from knowing that they may be able to commiserate with a formidable U.S. senator, an Oscar-nominated actor, a notable Broadway producer and a respected novelist.

A family grieving its six-figure inheritance will not be any less bereft for knowing that losses may also have been suffered by the heirs of the singer and composer John Denver and the pioneering film producer Irving Thalberg.

But that probably will not stop everyone remotely interested in the disastrous Madoff scandal from taking a minute (well, maybe more than a few minutes) to troll for A-List names on the M-List.

Peanut Supplier Banned from Federal Business

The Agriculture Department on Thursday banned the company implicated in the nationwide contamination of peanut products from doing business with the federal government. At least eight people have died and hundreds have been sickened after eating tainted products.

The order, which affects the Peanut Corporation of America and a subsidiary, will remain in force for one year. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also stripped the company’s chief executive of his seat on a board that advises the government on peanut quality standards.

David Shipman, an acting administrator at the Agriculture Department, said, “The actions of PCA indicate that the company lacks business integrity and business honesty, which seriously and directly hinders its ability to do business with the federal government.”

The department’s actions came on a day when senators heard testimony from health experts and a Food and Drug Administration official, who acknowledged that gaps in the food safety system had contributed to delays in catching the outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter and other products that spread to 43 states. The problem has been traced to a peanut processing facility in Blakely, Ga.

Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the director of food safety programs at the FDA, told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee that the agency’s investigation was hindered in part by the absence of laws requiring companies to report contamination at processing facilities. Sundlof said food makers were only required to tell the agency about safety issues after their products are shipped.

“That’s one of the very serious loopholes we need to plug,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Sri Lanka Rejects Call for Truce

Rejecting international calls for a cease-fire, Sri Lanka said on Thursday that it had the vestige of a rebel group cornered in a small wedge of the northeastern coast, where the group’s elusive leader was likely to be holed up in the company of thousands of civilians.

Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a telephone interview from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, that government forces could swiftly seize the bastion of the rebel leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and his subordinates were it not for a shield of civilians they had placed around them.

“The leaders are still there in that area, and they have that human shield,” Rajapaksa said. “Very soon when we overrun this place, we will be able to capture him.”

The military also announced the capture of the last known naval base of the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A few days ago, it said it had captured the last of seven airstrips held by the Tamil Tigers’ crude but deadly air force, as well as a village hut that it had described as a hide-out of Prabhakaran.

There is no way to confirm any of what the government says. Journalists are not allowed anywhere near the war zone. The Tamil Tigers have not been reachable for comment.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, estimates that 250,000 civilians are trapped in the combat zone; the government says there are far fewer.

Whatever the number, Rajapaksa said the government would not agree to a cease-fire, as several of Sri Lanka’s backers, including the United States, have urged, to allow the civilians to evacuate. “We had so many cease-fires in the last three decades. None of these cease-fires solved the problem,” he said. “Don’t give them breathing space.”

The Tamil Tigers have been widely accused by, among others, international aid agencies, of prohibiting civilians from leaving the area, which has been bombarded by aerial attacks and artillery. One of the worst victims of the fighting was the last proper hospital in the rebel-held area, which had come under such repeated shelling over four days that the Red Cross, which helps run the hospital, had to evacuate all patients and staff and flee deeper into rebel-controlled territory.

On Thursday, Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, denied that government troops would shell the hospital, but insisted that not all of its patients were civilians and that the Tamil Tigers were fighting in the vicinity. He said the Red Cross had been cautioned to evacuate the hospital into what the government had demarcated as a no-fire zone.

The agency has repeatedly warned both sides that hospitals and known civilian sites are, by definition, protected zones under international law.