PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS/AP) As Bernie Madoff's victims drown in debt, it appears one of the men that actually made money off of the $65 billion Ponzi scheme, Jeffry Picower, has drowned in his own pool.
Picower allegedly made more than $7 billion from the fraudulent schemes of his longtime friend Madoff.
The 67-year-old former New York attorney was found dead at the bottom of the pool at his oceanside mansion in Palm Beach on Sunday. Authorities say Picower's wife, Barbara, discovered the body and pulled him out with help from a housekeeper.
The death of Picower will make it more difficult for suing investors to recoup their money, attorneys said.
Picower was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Medical Center about 1:30 p.m. Palm Beach police are investigating the death as a drowning, but have not ruled out anything on the cause of death.
Picower had been accused by jilted investors of being the biggest beneficiary of Madoff's schemes. In a lawsuit to recover Madoff's assets, trustee Irving Picard demanded that Picower return more than $7 billion in bogus profits.
In an emailed statement Sunday, Picard said only that "litigation will continue."
Jerry Reisman, an attorney representing about 26 victims, said Picower's death will make it more difficult for the trustee to recoup some of the money.
"We won't be able to hear from his own words whether he was complicit," Reisman said.
Picower suffered from Parkinson's disease and had "heart-related issues," said family attorney William D. Zabel. He described Picower's health as "poor."
Picower's body showed no visible injuries, said Joseph Sekula, spokesman for the Palm Beach Fire Department. He said Picower was wearing swim trunks.
The home and property is worth more than $33 million, according to the county property appraiser's records.
Picower and his wife started the Picower Foundation in 1989, which has given millions to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Human Rights First and the New York Public Library. It also funded diabetes research at Harvard Medical School.
The foundation, whose assets were managed by Madoff, said in its 2007 tax return its investment portfolio was valued at nearly $1 billion. After the Madoff scandal broke in December, the Picower foundation said it would have to cease grant-making and would be forced to close.
But the trustee's lawyer said Picower's claims that he was a victim "ring hollow" because he withdrew more of other investors' money than anyone else during three decades and should have noticed signs of fraud.
According to the lawyers, Picower's accounts were "riddled with blatant and obvious fraud," and he should have recognized that because he was a sophisticated investor.
Picower had asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.
Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after he admitted losing billions of dollars for thousands of clients over a half-century career that saw him rise to be a Nasdaq chairman. Madoff's attorney, Ira Sorkin, did not respond to a request for comment.