Madoff friend drowned due to heart attack

MIAMI (Reuters) - Billionaire philanthropist Jeffry Picower accidentally drowned in his Florida swimming pool after suffering a heart attack, police investigating the death of the prominent Bernard Madoff investor said on Monday.

Picower, 67, was pulled unconscious from the pool of his multimillion-dollar oceanside home in Palm Beach on Sunday and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

An autopsy was completed on Monday and found that “Mr. Picower suffered a heart attack while in the swimming pool resulting in accidental drowning,” police said in a statement.

Picower and his wife, Barbara, were described in court documents as among the biggest beneficiaries of Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty.

The trustee handling the Madoff fraud case, Irving Picard, said in court documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York last month that Picower, listed as one of the 400 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine, was complicit in the fraud. The trustee had sued Picower to collect $7.2 billion.

On Monday, Picard said through his spokesman: “The litigation will continue. We have previously met and talked with Picower’s counsel.”

Picower’s lawyer, William Zabel, called the accusations false and outrageous and said Picower was one of Madoff’s victims. Picower suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had heart-related illness, Zabel’s spokeswoman said.

Picower was listed 371st and worth $1 billion on the latest published Forbes list. He and his wife headed a philanthropy, the Picower Foundation, which closed when the Madoff fraud unraveled last December.

Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Richard Chang