Potential fallout reaches high, wide in alleged scheme

NEW YORK – The list of investors who say they were duped in one of Wall Street’s biggest Ponzi schemes is growing, snaring some of the world’s biggest banking institutions and hedge funds, the super-rich and the famous, pensioners and charities.

The alleged victims who sank cash into veteran Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff’s investment pool include a trust tied to real estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman and a charity of movie director Steven Spielberg. The Wall Street Journal reported that the foundation of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel also took a hit.

Among the world’s biggest banking institutions, Britain’s HSBC Holdings PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC and Man Group PLC, Spain’s Grupo Santander SA, France’s BNP Paribas and Japan’s Nomura Holdings all reported that they had fallen victim to Madoff’s alleged Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme.

The 70-year-old Madoff, well respected in the investment community after serving as chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, was arrested Thursday in what prosecutors say was a $50 billion scheme to defraud investors.

Some investors claim they’ve been wiped out, while others are still likely to come forward.

“There were a lot of very sophisticated people who were duped, and that happens a great deal when you’ve had somebody decide to be unscrupulous,” said Harvey Pitt, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a regulatory agency in charge of monitoring investment funds like the one Madoff operated.

The extent of the potential damage prompted a leading fund manager in London to lash out at U.S. regulators for failing to detect the fraud earlier.

“I think now it is very difficult for people to invest in things that are meant to be regulated in America, because they have fallen down in the job,” Nicola Horlick, the manager of Bramdean Alternatives, which has 9 percent of its funds invested in Madoff’s scheme, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

“All through the credit crunch this has been apparent,” Horlick added. “This is the biggest financial scandal, probably, in the history of the markets.”

Among U.S. investors, the Boston-based Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, a charity that financed trips for Jewish youth to Israel, let go of its staff after revealing that the money for its operations was invested with Madoff.

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, entrusted his family’s charitable foundation to Madoff.

Lautenberg’s attorney, Michael Griffinger, said they weren’t yet sure the extent of the foundation’s losses, but that the bulk of its investments had been handled by Madoff.

Lautenberg’s foundation handed out more than $765,000 to at least 100 recipients in 2006, according to the most recent listing on Guidestar, which tracks charitable organization filings.

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