Investigative Producer Pia Malbran wrote this story for CBSNews.com.
Ruth Madoff, the wife of disgraced money manager Bernard Madoff could face conspiracy charges if it is proven that she knew about her husband's massive Wall Street money scam and purposely tried to hide assets before he was arrested.
"I fully expect her to be named [in civil lawsuits] shortly," said Adam Rabin, a Florida attorney who represents individuals victimized by Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
New court documents released Wednesday revealed Ruth Madoff, 67, withdrew $10 million from one of her husband's company bank accounts on Dec. 10, 2008, the day before he was arrested on federal fraud charges. Two weeks earlier, on Nov. 25, 2008, she withdrew $5.5 million from the same account.
"It certainly raises questions," said the Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who discovered the wire transactions as part of an investigation into the Boston based company Cohmad Securities which Bernard Madoff co-owns. Secretary Galvin has determined that Cohmad was an extension of Madoff's New York investment firm funneling in as much as $67 million a month from investors.
"In order to be guilty of a conspiracy [either criminal or civil] you don't have to know all the details of a scheme," said attorney Ryon McCabe, Rabin's partner and former federal prosecutor. McCabe argues that if prosecutors want to hold Ruth Madoff legally responsible "all the government would have to do is prove that she knew [about the scam] and on at least one occasion took part" by withdrawing money just before the scheme was exposed.
As of right now, Ruth Madoff is not named in the federal case against her husband. However, Rabin believes that could change. The new revelations "could be used to put pressure on her to assist with the investigation."
This is not the first move by Ruth Madoff that has raised eyebrows. A CBS News investigation that aired on Jan. 30 discovered Bernard Madoff's wife also took steps, before her husband's arrest, to protected their $9.5 million Palm Beach, Florida home from being taken away in a bankruptcy proceeding. A unique Florida "homestead" law allows some homes to be shielded from creditors. Property records, obtained exclusively by CBS News show Ruth tried to get "homestead" status in 2006 at the same time federal authorities were probing Bernard Madoff. Her initial application in 2006 was rejected. She then reapplied on September 18, 2008, less than two months before federal authorities detained her husband.
"She may have been trying to get the homestead status to protect her home from civil creditors," said Ryon.
Attorney Ira Lee Sorkin who represents both Bernard and Ruth Madoff declined to comment.
By Pia Malbran