Sarasota Ponzi schemer Arthur Nadel dies in prison

Published April 18, 2012

Arthur G. Nadel, the Sarasota money manager who shattered hundreds of lives through a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $162 million, died Monday. He was 79.

Nadel died at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, where he was serving a 14-year prison sentence.

Prison officials didn't cite a cause of death. Nadel, who had battled heart problems for years, was admitted to the hospice unit last week and had spent time in the prison medical center.

"Dying behind prison walls is a very hard way for anyone to leave this world," said Mark Gombiner, Nadel's federally appointed defender. "Arthur had a troubled life, but he took responsibility for his actions and he faced his punishment with dignity."

Dubbed a "mini-Madoff" after schemer Bernard Madoff, Nadel was the key player in what became the largest investment swindle in southwest Florida history.

He ran six hedge funds in downtown Sarasota that collapsed in January 2009 after some investors tried to retrieve their money.

He then fled town, leaving behind notes threatening suicide and including fears that others might want to kill him.

Nadel turned himself in two weeks later. He later pleaded guilty to 15 federal counts, and was sentenced in October 2010 to what Gombiner said was tantamount to a life sentence.

Nadel and partners Neil and Christopher Moody boasted that their hedge funds were worth about $330 million for nearly 400 investors. In fact, it was $500,000 at the end.

Nadel pocketed more than $100 million in fees and profits from the funds.

He never gave a full accounting of how the Ponzi scheme came about.

Burton Wiand, the receiver gathering money for burned investors, said Nadel's death would have no impact on his efforts. "We were not relying upon him as a witness for any significant matters at all."

Many investors lost their life savings in the scheme. Some had to sell homes to raise cash. Others canceled retirement plans, some indefinitely.

David Walters, an Ocala retiree who lost $800,000, is one of many who thought Nadel got off too easily.

"I can't say I grieve for him," Walters said. "I do wish that he would have had more time to contemplate his crimes."

Michael J. Sullivan, a retired Chicago businessman who lost $1 million, was the only investor who spoke at Nadel's sentencing.

"The damage he inflicted on people was so overwhelming, it's hard to conceive," Sullivan said Tuesday.

In a 2011 statement to the Herald-Tribune, Nadel said he never set out to commit crimes.

"I did not plan a Ponzi scheme," he said. "At the age of 70 and in poor health, I would hardly have any expectation that I would become the head of a multimillion-dollar operation, and even less that it would take a crime to achieve it."

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The Butner prison complex where Nadel died is now home to Madoff, who is serving a 150-year sentence for the largest financial fraud in history.