NEW YORK (Reuters) - The trustee seeking money for Bernard Madoff’s victims is now demanding $19 billion in damages from JPMorgan Chase & Co, more than tripling what he hopes to recover from what had been the main bank for the now-imprisoned Ponzi schemer.
The amended complaint by the trustee Irving Picard adds new charges and was filed three days after the second-largest U.S. bank agreed to pay $153.6 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fraud charges.
Picard maintained that JPMorgan was “thoroughly complicit” in Madoff’s fraud and ignored red flags. In his original complaint, made public in February, he had sought $6.4 billion, including $5.4 billion of damages and $1 billion for fraudulent transfers and claims.
“JPMorgan Chase chose to enable Madoff’s fraud, not just through the various ways it participated in its activity, but by helping to cover Madoff’s naked theft with the imprimatur of a globally recognized financial institution,” the 155-page amended complaint said.
The higher damage request reflects “life-to-date damages,” or what the trustee considers the minimum losses over the entirety of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
Picard is also seeking at least $500 million that JPMorgan made “off the backs of Madoff’s victims,” and more than $400 million of alleged fraudulent transfers.
Tasha Pelio, a JPMorgan spokeswoman, repeated in an email the bank’s earlier statement that Picard’s lawsuit is meritless and distorts the facts and law.
“JPMorgan did not know about or in any way become a party to the fraud orchestrated by Bernard Madoff,” she said. “At all times, JPMorgan complied fully with all laws and regulations governing bank accounts.”
Picard has filed roughly 1,050 lawsuits seeking more than $100 billion for former investors at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.
“BEFORE THEIR VERY EYES”
The amended JPMorgan complaint adds new allegations that another financial services company around 1997 investigated nearly daily transfers of $1 million to $10 million between Madoff’s account there and his account at Chase.
It said that company questioned Madoff’s employees about the suspicious back-and-forth transfers. Having failed to be satisfied about them, they closed Madoff’s account, it said.
“JPMorgan Chase’s bankers literally watched the fraud unfold before their very eyes,” Deborah Renner, a lawyer representing Picard, said in a statement. Both are partners at the law firm Baker & Hostetler.
The amended complaint also discusses Madoff’s longtime relationship with Sterling Equities, a private banking customer of JPMorgan founded by Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, owners of the New York Mets baseball team.
Picard has sued the Mets’ owners for $1 billion, prompting them to enter talks to sell part of the team to hedge fund manager David Einhorn for $200 million. [ID:nN26247232] The owners have denied knowing Madoff was committing fraud.
In a regulatory filing last month, JPMorgan estimated that as of March 31 it might have to pay out as much as $4.5 billion more for litigation than it had set aside for that purpose. It also said it faced more than 10,000 legal proceedings.
Tuesday’s SEC accord resolved charges that JPMorgan did not tell investors that a hedge fund helped shape -- and then bet against -- complex mortgage securities they bought.
Picard’s case against JPMorgan is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.
It is one of three high-profile Madoff lawsuits that have been moved to federal district court, where juries can hear cases, from bankruptcy court, where Picard originally sued.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff is reviewing some issues in Picard’s $9 billion case against HSBC Holdings Plc.
Rakoff is also considering whether the trustee can invoke racketeering law in a $58.8 billion lawsuit against Italy’s UniCredit SpA, Austria’s Bank Medici AG and its founder Sonja Kohn, and other defendants.
JPMorgan has until August 1 to respond to the amended complaint, Picard said.
Madoff, 73, was arrested on December 11, 2008, and after pleading guilty is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
JPMorgan shares fell 16 cents in after-hours trading, after closing Friday’s session down 58 cents at $39.49.
The cases are Picard v. JPMorgan Chase & Co et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-ap-04932; and Picard v. JPMorgan Chase & Co et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-00913.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Jochelle Mendonca in Bangalore; editing by Andre Grenon, Gary Hill