By CHARLES LEAF, Fox 5 News
MYFOXNY.COM – Palm Beach, Florida, was Bernie Madoff’s personal playground, his escape from the midtown madness of New York City. Before Madoff was exposed as the architect of a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, he was revered on Wall Street and treated like royalty in Palm Beach.
Madoff’s days of fending off the press caught in the unflattering glare of flash bulbs and TV cameras are likely over, forever. Madoff never really liked the public light, despite building his empire in the media capital of the world — New York City.
Madoff may have been running his criminal operation from the Lipstick Building in Manhattan, but it was in the exclusive town of Palm Beach that he and many of his surrogates were bringing in extremely wealthy investors into his Ponzi scheme. Here Bernie could escape the New York spotlight and still shine.
Bernie’s multi-million dollar Palm Beach home was his waterfront retreat, secluded behind lush, tropical greens.
In Palm Beach, Bernie Madoff was king. He was figure of wealth and almost mystical powers of making people rich — super rich. If there’s one thing they love in Palm Beach it’s money. And at the Palm Beach country club, where the entrance fee is $350,000, Bernie’s name was gold.
Bernie’s morning business meetings were often at his favorite Palm Beach restaurant — Cucina. The owner says the man Madoff most often met with was Robert Jaffe of Cohmad Secruities, a firm in which he and Madoff have an ownership share. It is the same firm that investigators say Ruth Madoff withdrew millions of dollars from days before Bernie’s arrest.
Jaffe’s Palm Beach gated mansion, complete with security cameras, is just a few doors down from Bernie’s. No one at Jaffe’s home wanted to speak to Fox 5 News.
Few in Palm Beach are talking to Jaffe these days. Most blame him for getting them to invest with Madoff. Jaffe’s own investment firm is being investigated, and Massachusetts officials trying to shut it down.
But before Madoff’s December arrest, the two Palm Beach power brokers would have won a popularity contest.
If it wasn’t dinner at Cucina’s for Bernie and wife at their favorite table, where they tipped and drank well, it was golf and mingling at the exclusive Palm Beach country club or relaxing in a cabana at the famed breakers hotel, or at their home hidden behind Florida’s thick brush.
When we paid a visit, nobody appeared to be home. But a rare glimpse through windows revealed the place remains in immaculate condition.
We saw a collection of fine vases, sculptures and beautiful artwork adorning the entrance way. The long hallway, with light pouring in, leads to Madoff’s beautiful back patio and swimming pool. Along the bay, a private boat slip connects to the property.
All of it may someday be liquidated with the profits returned to Madoff’s victims. Some of whom in Palm Beach are using a real estate company to sell the mansions they can no longer afford.