Madoff Scandal Takes Grisly Turn

Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet SIPA PRESS/DAVID X PRUTTING

He was a distinguished investor who traced his lineage to the French aristocracy, hobnobbed with members of European high society and sailed around the world on fancy yachts.

But after losing more than $1 billion of his clients' money to Bernard Madoff, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet had enough. He locked the door of his Madison Avenue office and apparently swallowed sleeping pills and slashed his wrists with a box cutter, police said.

A security guard found his body Tuesday morning, next to a garbage can placed to catch the blood.

The bloody scene marked a grisly turn in the Madoff scandal in which money managers and investors were ensnared in an alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. De la Villehuchet is believed to have lost about $1.4 billion to Madoff.

No suicide note was found, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city medical examiner, said the autopsy on de la Villehuchet had been completed Wednesday. She said the medical examiner was awaiting toxicology reports before determining the cause of death.

The suicide came as the number of Madoff victims grew. New York University said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that it believes it lost $24 million in the scheme through an investment with money manager J. Ezra Merkin.

De la Villehuchet, 65, was an esteemed financier who tapped his upper-crust European connections to attract clients. It was not immediately clear how he knew Madoff or who his clients were.

He grew increasingly subdued after the Madoff scandal broke, drawing suspicion among janitors at his office Monday night when he demanded that they be out of there by 7 p.m.

A partner in the firm asked a security guard later in the evening to check and see if De La Villehuchet was still there, but the door was locked, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

When a guard came into the 22nd-story office suite the next morning, less than 13 hours later, the Frenchman was dead, Browne said. There were several cuts "to his arm, to his wrist and also to his bicep area," Kelly said.

His suicide may be just the beginning, says a fellow hard-luck investor who predicted such incidents shortly after news of the scandal broke.

"It was kind of an easy prediction to make," Robert Chew, who lost $1.2 million in Madoff's fund, told CBS' The Early Show Wednesday. "I'm afraid that this is just the beginning of this kind of devastation and tragedy. It's just going to continue."

In a column Chew wrote for Time Magazine nine days ago, he said the scandal was "the kind of news that's been known to cause shortness of breath, sudden cardiac arrest, revolvers pulled from bedside drawers."

De la Villehuchet's death came as swindled investors began looking for ways to recoup their losses. Funds that lost big to Madoff are also facing investor lawsuits and backlash for failing to properly vet Madoff and overlooking red flags that could have steered them away. It's not immediately known what kind of scrutiny de la Villehuchet was facing over his losses.

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De la Villehuchet comes from rich French lineage, with the Magon part of his name referring to one of France's most powerful families. The Magon name is even listed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a monument commissioned by Napoleon in 1806.

"He's irreproachable," said Bill Rapavy, who was Access International's chief operating officer before founding his own firm in 2007.

De la Villehuchet's firm enlisted intermediaries with links to wealthy Europeans to garner investors. Among them was Philippe Junot, a French businessman and friend who is the former husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Prince Michel of Yugoslavia.

De la Villehuchet, the former chairman and chief executive of Credit Lyonnais Securities USA, was also known as a keen sailor who regularly participated in regattas and was a member of the New York Yacht Club.

He lived in an affluent suburb in Westchester County with his wife, Claudine. They have no children. There was no answer Tuesday at the family's two-story house. Phone calls to the home and de la Villehuchet's office went unanswered.

Guy Gurney, a British photographer living in Connecticut, was friends with de la Villehuchet. The two often sailed together and competed in a regatta in France in November.

"He was a very honorable man," Gurney said. "He was extraordinarily generous. He was an aristocrat but not a snob. He was a real person. When he was sailing, he was one of the boys."

The two were supposed to have dinner last Friday but Gurney called the day before to cancel because of the weather. But during the call, de la Villehuchet revealed he had been ensnared in Madoff scandal.

"He sounded very subdued," Gurney said.

Gurney said de la Villehuchet was happily married to his wife.

"I can't imagine what it's like for her now," he said.
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