When former financier Bernard Madoff was arrested last month and accused of swindling clients out of $50 billion, he insisted his family members were in the dark, even though some of them held key positions in his investment firm. But now, a CBS News investigation by Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian has uncovered evidence that raises questions about what Madoff's family knew - and when they knew it.
In Palm Beach, Fla., there are two lavish homes within 10 minutes of each other. The first, worth an estimated $9.3 million, belongs to Bernard Madoff. The other, said to be worth $4.6 million, is the Florida residence of Peter Madoff, Bernard's brother and long-time business partner.
The paper trail on these two residences calls into question what family members may have known.
CBS News has learned that Madoff and his brother, along with their wives, took steps two years ago -- around the time that federal regulators started probing Madoff's business activities -- that could help prevent their Florida homes from being taken away from them, something possible under Florida state law.
"Florida has very unique laws and has been described by some as a debtor's haven," said John Pankauski, a Florida estate attorney. "People who may want to protect their property will seek the protection of Florida laws."
Florida's "homestead" laws, which are unlike what any other state has, in part allow homeowners facing legal judgments (or other financial issues) to protect their primary residence fully - keeping it out of the hands of potential creditors. One of the key steps in qualifying for the home-protection is seeking "homestead exemption," which provides homeowners with a tax break.
On May 10, 2001, Peter Madoff bought the home at 200 Algoma Road in Palm Beach, Fla., along with his wife Marion. Both were listed as owners at the time.
Five years later, on Nov. 8, 2006, Peter transferred the title to Marion making her the sole legal owner of the home.
According to federal documents, during this time the Securities and Exchange Commission was in the middle of what turned out to be a two year investigation into Madoff's company, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, for "fraudulent activities." The investigation began on Jan. 6, 2006.
"Why are you transferring assets to your spouse? What caused that transfer? If you are transferring assets for estate planning purposes why wasn't it done before?" said Pankauski.
An expert told CBS News that Peter Madoff would have almost certainly been aware of the SEC investigation at that time because he was the company's chief compliance officer.
"The chief compliance officer is really the point person the SEC is going to deal with," said Robert Heim, former assistant regional director of the SEC's New York Office.
But, information obtained exclusively by CBS News reveals that it wasn't until Dec. 10, 2006, that Ruth Madoff applied for homestead exemption. This was within weeks of when her sister-in-law Marion applied for the same exemption.
"That raises a red flag," Pankauski told CBS News. "When you have two spouses of two executives who are being investigated by the SEC going down to Florida saying 'hey, I want homestead status.' It draws into question why it was done. It's highly suspicious."
CBS News has learned that on Sept. 18, 2008, about two months before Bernard Madoff's arrest, Ruth reapplied for homestead exemption. Her request was granted just two weeks ago on January 12, 2009.
Keteyian asked: "If it was discovered that during the course of a SEC investigation the Madoffs were moving assets, what would that tell you?"
"It shows that the people that are being investigated, in this case, the Madoffs, have a certain consciousness of guilt," Heim said.
Peter Madoff's role in the scam, if any, remains unclear. But timing of the homestead exemption requests raises questions as to who knew what and when.
CBS News contacted the attorneys for both Madoff brothers. They had no comment.