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Madoff associate Jeffry Picower dies at 67

PALM BEACH — Jeffry Picower, a philanthropist accused of gaining more than $7 billion from the investment schemes of his longtime friend Bernard Madoff, was found at the bottom of the pool at his oceanside mansion and died Sunday, police said. He was 67.

Picower's wife discovered his body and pulled him from the water with help from a housekeeper, authorities said. He 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 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.

"There wasn't anything noted as far as trauma or anything to the body," he said, adding that "it did appear that he was swimming because he was wearing swimming trunks."

The home and property are worth more than $33 million, according to the county property appraiser's records.

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 Picower return more than $7 billion in bogus profits.

In an e-mailed statement Sunday, Picard said only that "litigation will continue."

Zabel, the Picower family attorney, said in a statement that "there was progress towards a settlement with the trustee."

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 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.

Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after he admitted losing billions of dollars for thousands of clients over a half-century career.

Jonathan Landers, an attorney representing a large group of victims, said in an e-mail that it was impossible to tell what effect Picower's death would have on efforts to recover funds lost in Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme.

Madoff associate Jeffry Picower dies at 67 10/25/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 26, 2009 12:19am]

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