Another $372 million on the way to Bernard Madoff's victims

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Bernard Madoff's victims will soon receive another $372 million to help cover their losses, nearly 14 years after the swindler's capture for running a massive Ponzi scheme, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The payout from the government's Madoff Victim Fund will go to 27,219 victims, including more than 400 who had yet to recoup a penny from any source.

Following the payout, the fund will have distributed about $4.08 billion in one or more payments to 40,454 individuals, schools, charities, pension plans and others.

"People getting these checks are not hedge funds," Richard Breeden, the former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who oversees the government fund, said in an interview. "They're real people, and it helps families around the world."

An additional $14.54 billion has been recouped for customers of the former Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC by Irving Picard, the trustee liquidating that firm in bankruptcy. That boosts the total payout to about $18.6 billion.

Madoff's fraud, estimated as high as $64.8 billion, went undiscovered for many years until he confessed to his sons in December 2008, one day after his firm's annual Christmas party.

After pleading guilty to 11 criminal counts, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. He died behind bars at age 82 in April 2021.

Wednesday's payout is the eighth from the government fund, with victims recouping an average 88.35% of their losses.

Another 2,265 victims with valid claims have received nothing from the fund, but many have been made whole by Picard or other sources.

The fund was created in 2013, mainly from settlements between the Justice Department and Madoff's former bank JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), and between Picard and the estate of former Madoff investor Jeffry Picower.

It originally held $4.05 billion, but has grown because the Justice Department has recovered additional assets.

Breeden said about $200 million remains available, and a ninth payout next year will "almost certainly be the last."

He also cautioned investors not to let their guard down and chase higher returns, to combat falling stock prices and elevated inflation.

"People start looking for alternatives, and that's when fraudsters thrive," he said. "People like Madoff are always happy to throw their lures in the water and offer deals too good to be true."

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, and Rami Ayyub and Paul Grant in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.