NEW YORK — If Ruth Madoff hopes to hold onto her fancy apartment, her millions in cash and her jet set lifestyle while her husband, Bernard, is in prison, experts have some advice for her: Get ready for an inquisition.
Attorneys and investment specialists say Madoff will have a difficult time proving her assertion that up to $69 million of the couple's wealth was unrelated to her husband's Ponzi scheme.
"It's going to be very hard for her to show that anything is untainted," said Alton Abramowitz, national vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Some angry investors suspect their money ended up in Ruth Madoff's hands. But even if she is never charged with a crime, Ruth Madoff's wealth will be closely reviewed by federal prosecutors and civil lawyers.
Investigators will want to see personal bank statements, credit card receipts, tax returns and canceled checks, as well as her business records.
"The process gives us the right to look at all of it to try to prove that Mrs. Madoff did not earn this money on her own," said Jeffrey Sonn, a securities specialist in Fort Lauderdale, representing dozens of Madoff claimants. "It's intrusive, sure, but that's the procedure."
What those credit-card receipts will show is a life apparently unbound by financial care, with homes in Palm Beach, the south of France and the tip of Long Island, besides the $7 million penthouse in midtown Manhattan. There was also travel by private jet and yacht.
As a young couple, the Madoffs set up a financial-services firm in 1960 on a few thousand dollars Madoff had saved from lifeguarding and installing sprinklers.
Ruth Madoff worked beside her husband at the start and reportedly still had an office near his when the end came last December.
The couple also raised two boys — Mark, now 44, and Andrew, 42 — who are both now talking to investigators.
Ruth Madoff, now 67, became co-trustee of the family foundation, earned a master's degree in nutrition and helped compile a cookbook, The Great Chefs of America Cook Kosher, still available on Amazon.com.
Now the couple's life of privilege is endangered by both the criminal and civil cases.
Ruth Madoff's attorney, Peter Chavkin, declined to comment Thursday. But his client will probably try to prove that her assets came from her own earnings or her own money, and that there was no mixing with funds tainted by her husband's crime.