Madoff victims get holiday treat

Bernard Madoff’s victims are getting an early holiday treat as the trustee unwinding his fraud begins sending out a total of $1.2 billion in recovered funds, with checks averaging $1.1 million each.

The biggest payout to victims in more than three years comes a week before the anniversary of Madoff’s Dec. 11, 2008, arrest, when thousands of retirees, charities, investment funds and other clients discovered they’d lost $17.5 billion in principal in the decades-old Ponzi scheme.

The distribution starting Friday boosts victims’ recoveries to $9.16 billion, or about 57 percent of their lost cash, trustee Irving Picard said in a statement. Checks will range from $1,298 to $202 million, he said, and when the payout is complete almost 1,300 victims will have been made whole. It’s the sixth distribution of funds.

Picard said in a statement that his recoveries “exceed similar efforts related to prior Ponzi scheme recoveries, in terms of dollar value and percentage of stolen funds recovered.” He said he'll send out another $320 million after pending litigation is resolved.

The U.S. Justice Department hasn’t yet paid anything from its $4 billion Madoff Victim Fund, including proceeds of a forfeiture agreement with one of Madoff’s biggest customers. The fund, overseen by former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Richard C. Breeden, has been analyzing tens of thousands of claims since at least December 2012.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, who prosecuted Madoff after his arrest, didn’t have an immediate comment on the forfeiture process. Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 and is serving a 150-year sentence. A jury last year convicted five of his top aides.

Friday’s distribution was made possible after the U.S. Supreme Court refused in October to hear an appeal from victims who argued for years that they should receive interest on their losses. Customers who invested with Madoff for years believed they had a combined total of about $64 billion, including profit from fake securities trading.