Bernard Madoff's victims will soon receive $2.48 billion to help cover their losses, by far the largest payout since the swindler's massive fraud was uncovered nearly four years ago.
Checks ranging from $1,784 to $526.9 million were mailed on Wednesday to 1,230 former customers of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, according to Irving Picard, the trustee liquidating the firm.
The latest payout more than triples the total recovery to $3.63 billion, Picard said on Thursday. It will result in 1,074 customers with valid claims, or 44 percent of the total number, being fully repaid, he added.
Customers had previously recovered $1.15 billion, including sums committed by the Securities Investor Protection Corp, which helps customers of failed brokerages. The average payout in Wednesday's distribution was $2.02 million.
According to a September 13 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the largest valid customer claims are $1.57 billion by Optimal Multiadvisors Ltd, part of Spain's Banco Santander SA; and $741 million by M-Invest Ltd, a "feeder" fund created by Switzerland's Union Bancaire Privee.
It is not immediately clear who received the largest payout. A spokeswoman for Picard was not immediately available to comment. Representatives for Santander and Union Bancaire Privee were also not immediately available.
Madoff was arrested in December 2008 and pleaded guilty three months later to running a giant Ponzi scheme.
The 74-year-old is serving a 150-year sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland in Manhattan authorized the latest distribution last month following two legal victories for the trustee.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court decision that endorsed Picard's methods for calculating losses.
Then in July, a former Madoff customer dropped a court challenge to a $7.2 billion forfeiture by the estate of Madoff investor Jeffry Picower. Of that sum, $5 billion would go to the Madoff firm's estate, and the rest to the U.S. government.
Picard has recovered $9.15 billion, or 53 percent of the $17.3 billion he believes was lost in Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
The trustee is holding some funds in reserve as some Madoff victims pursue their own cases to recover more money.
Picard said this litigation is delaying further distributions. The trustee is also appealing court decisions that have limited his claims against banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co that did business with Madoff.
The market for trading claims on potential recoveries from Madoff's estate will adjust for the distribution, according to Joseph Sarachek, managing director of claims trading at CRT Capital Group LLC, a Stamford, Connecticut-based broker-dealer.
He said claims that recently traded at around 69 cents on the dollar will likely soon trade in the 30s. "The Madoff market is fairly volatile," Sarachek said. "The real question is when people think the next distribution will be."
Lifland has authorized Picard and his law firm, Baker & Hostetler, to bill $321.2 million of legal fees to pursue Madoff cases for the period ended January 31, 2012.
The case is Securities Investor Protection Corp. v. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-ap-01789.
(Additional reporting by Martin De Sa'Pinto in Madrid; editing by John Wallace and Andrew Hay)