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U.S. Marshals seize Madoff home, boats in Florida

PALM BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - U.S. Marshals on Wednesday seized a $9.4 million luxury home in Florida belonging to disgraced Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff and his wife after earlier confiscating two of their leisure boats.

A 1969 Rybovich sport fishing boat belonging to Bernard Madoff is shown in a marina in Fort Lauderdale, April 1, 2009 after it was seized by federal agents. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

There was no one living inside at the time as the federal agents moved into the two-story property at 410 North Lake Way, Palm Beach, set amid carefully manicured lawns and hedges on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway.

“We are securing the house, changing all the locks on the house ... we are taking a complete inventory,” Barry Golden of the U.S. Marshals Service told Reuters.

Madoff, a 70-year-old former Nasdaq stock market chairman, has been charged with operating the biggest investment fraud on Wall Street, cheating private investors, charities and pension funds out of an estimated $65 billion.

The U.S. Marshals swooped down on the Madoff’s Florida winter getaway after seizing two recreation boats belonging to them.

The Madoff assets, which were handed over to official custodians for safe-keeping, were secured under a seizure warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, where Madoff is in jail awaiting sentencing.

Locks were changed on more than half a dozen doors of the Palm Beach home, including the big polished wooden front door.

“It’s a fully-furnished lived-in house,” Golden said, speaking from the property, which is tucked behind a towering ficus hedge in the exclusive beach enclave. The backyard pool is fringed with palms and a flowering bougainvillea.

Earlier, federal agents in Davie, near Fort Lauderdale, took control of the 55-foot (17-meter) customized boat, called “Bull”, at a local marina, while in Palm City, West Palm Beach, they seized “Little Bull”, a smaller, 24-foot (7-meter) recreational craft.

The seizures came a day after a judge froze the assets of Madoff’s two sons who worked at the Madoff firm. Assets of five executives who ran hedge fund portfolios that funneled money into Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, also were frozen.

Bernard Madoff has confessed to perpetrating the fraud, involving more than 4,800 client accounts.

BOATS AND PROPERTIES IN FRANCE

It was not immediately clear what other assets belonging to Madoff or his family would be seized.

March 15 and March 17 filings by U.S. attorneys in the case against Madoff list the Palm Beach home and the two boats among “property subject to forfeiture” as a result of the charges against him. One list said the boats were owned in the name of Ruth Madoff.

At Roscioli Marina at Davie, located on a waterway a few miles inland from the coast, U.S. Marshals moved Madoff’s gleaming white “Bull” motor yacht down the river to a national liquidators holding area next to nearby Jackson Marina.

“It was a 55-foot customized motor yacht ... in pristine condition ... we took it from the marina,” Barry Golden of the U.S. Marshals Service in Fort Lauderdale told Reuters.

CBS TV showed footage of federal agents aboard the motor yacht as it was moved from the Roscioli Marina.

Golden said U.S. Marshals had executed a seizure warrant on the “Bull” on the order of the Southern District Court in New York. The boat would remain in custody and be maintained pending another order from the court.

In Palm City, federal agents seized the second smaller Madoff boat on a trailer in a storage unit.

“We got the ‘Little Bull’,” the agent at the West Palm Beach U.S. Marshals Service told Reuters.

Other Madoff property listed as “subject to forfeiture” includes a 75-foot (23-meter) sport yacht, also called “Bull”, docked in Juan-les-Pins, France, real estate in New York and Cap d’Antibes, France, cars, a Steinway piano, silverware, jewelry, bank funds, shares and securities.

Madoff’s fraud struck hard at Jewish communities and charities across the United States that had invested in his business. The scheme bilked some of the richest families in Palm Beach, Florida.

In another development, Massachusetts’ top securities regulator sued Fairfield Greenwich Group, which funneled billions of dollars into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, accusing the hedge fund firm of misleading investors.

Reporting by Hans Deryk; additional reporting and writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Carol Bishopric

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