An autopsy shows that Jeffry M. Picower, a prominent philanthropist accused of reaping about $7 billion in profit from Bernard L. Madoff’s vast Ponzi scheme, drowned on Sunday after having a heart attack.
Picower was found at the bottom of the swimming pool at his oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. The Palm Beach police confirmed the cause of death on Monday after an autopsy by the Palm Beach County medical examiner.
Picower had been under growing pressure for months as he faced litigation over his disputed role in the Ponzi scheme operated by Madoff, who was arrested in December and pleaded guilty in March to operating a long-running fraud that cost thousands of victims billions of dollars.
The Palm Beach police reported that emergency personnel had been called to the Picower home at 12:09 p.m. on Sunday by Picower’s wife, Barbara, who said she had found her husband at the bottom of the pool at the family home. He could not be revived and was pronounced dead at 1:30 p.m. at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
The Picowers’ lawyer, William D. Zabel, said that Picower, who was 67, had a history of heart problems and had Parkinson’s disease.
Picower was a well-known Wall Street investor and had a professional and personal relationship with Madoff that went back several decades. Besides investing their personal assets with Madoff, the Picowers had also entrusted him with money belonging to their personal foundation, which was forced to close in December, after Madoff’s arrest.
Initially, the Picowers were notable as victims of the Madoff fraud. But in May, the bankruptcy trustee seeking assets for Madoff victims sued the Picowers in federal court in Manhattan to recover more than $5 billion they withdrew from their Madoff accounts over the years. In a subsequent court filing, the trustee raised that figure to roughly $7 billion.
The trustee, Irving H. Picard, had asserted in a court filing that Picower had trouble getting his money back from Madoff at least as early as September 2003 and, on several occasions, was able to retrieve only “a fraction of the amount” he had requested from Madoff.
That failure to pay also should have put Picower on notice that Madoff’s money-management business was a fraud, Picard asserted.
The Picowers had emphatically denied any knowledge of the Ponzi scheme and insisted they were deceived by Madoff, as were federal regulators and thousands of other investors.
They said recently that the scandal and its aftermath had become a punishing experience, both emotionally and physically.
“We always have been private people, and having all this play out in the media has taken a big toll on our health,” the couple wrote in response to questions submitted earlier this month by The New York Times.
“Although we are stricken that one man could bring such misery to so many, we have been touched by the support from our friends and family.”
The Picowers had initiated settlement discussions with the trustee “to avoid years of extensive litigation,” according to Zabel. Since Picard can still pursue his claims against Picower’s estate and other family members, both the litigation and the settlement talks are expected to continue. As of last week, “progress was being made” toward a negotiated settlement, according to Zabel.
Others including Stanley Chais, a Los Angeles investment manager whose clients lost millions in the fraud, have also been sued by the trustee, who asserted that they too should have been suspicious of Madoff’s unusually steady returns.