Bidding to own a piece of Madoff's life

At a New York auction, Bernard Madoff's crazy array of footwear created a buzz along with a host of other personal items owned by the Wall Street king of fraudsters, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison last year.

Shoes which belonged to disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, are displayed during a press preview of items from Madoff to be auctioned, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, November 10, 2010. Hundreds of items once belonging to Madoff will be auctioned off on November 13, 2010, running the gamut from a massive emerald-cut diamond to his black bedroom slippers, US officials said. Proceeds from the auction will compensate the victims of his multibillion USD Ponzi scheme. TOPSHOTS/AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand

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Bernard Madoff walked straight into the hall of shame after he was convicted of running a US$65 billion (Dh238.73bn) Ponzi scheme last year. But it seems investors are now desperate to get into his shoes, literally.

At a New York auction, Madoff's crazy array of footwear created a buzz along with a host of other personal items owned by the Wall Street king of fraudsters, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison last year. The event raised about $2 million, a drop in the ocean compared with the billions he stashed away from his investment stings.

Even so, proceeds from the auction will go to the US department of justice's asset forfeiture fund, to be used to compensate the victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

"This was another successful evening and it is a chapter closed here in New York City," said Roland Ubaldo, a US deputy marshal. All of the 500 items that went under the hammer, from footwear to furniture, were seized from two of Madoff''s luxury homes and drew feverish bidding at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers.

The top-selling item was a 10.5 carat diamond ring that went for $550,000, beating a pre-sale estimate by $200,000.

Competing were dealers, collectors seeking mementos from the Madoff era and others as mysterious as the man himself before he was arrested in December 2008.

"It's all going to play out shortly," said a man with a tweed jacket and salt-and-pepper hair who declined to identify himself, after he bought the diamond ring. "I'd just as soon not talk about it."

More than 200 pairs of Madoff's shoes were auctioned off. One lot - 18 pairs of new size nine Mr Casual shoes - fetched $2,900, more than double the high pre-sale estimate.

Another man who declined to identify himself had his eye on a pair of black velveteen slippers, with the initials BLM embroidered in gold thread. Sold! $6,000.

Empty photo albums and picture frames went for $1,000. A leather footstool depicting a bull went for $3,300, almost 10 times its pre-sale high estimate of $360.

"The word that comes to mind is silly," said James Flaig, 57, a legal secretary who deposited the required $500 to register for the sale and refused to make a bid. "He wasn't a good guy."

Alan Richardson, a Miami dealer in jewellery, spent about $400,000 for items including luxury watches. He said prices were lower than at a smaller Madoff sale a year ago, also at the Sheraton New York.

"Prices are high for junk," Mr Richardson said. "The really good stuff wasn't expensive at all."

Other key items that caught the eye included a Steinway & Sons grand piano, which sold for $42,000 after predictions of $16,000.

"It's got a little bit of history to it and it's hysterical," John Rodger, a property developer, said after placing the winning bid. "It makes it a conversation piece."

Vast amounts of money from Madoff's fraud might never be found. As of the end of September, about $1.5bn had been recovered for investors, Irving Picard, the trustee overseeing the former billionaire's bankruptcy, said in a report. When he was arrested, Madoff had 4,900 accounts with $65bn in non-existent investments, according to Mr Picard.

* The National Staff with Bloomberg