Government officials say Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff may have scammed more victims than previously estimated — and stolen more from them, too.
More than 51,700 claims had been filed as of April 30 from investors who said they'd been scammed, according to a Tuesday update from Richard Breeden, the special master administering the Madoff Victim Fund on behalf of the Department of Justice.
The claims flowed in from 119 countries and reported more than $40 billion in net losses.
Breeden said the filings haven't yet been reviewed to weed out "ineligible, duplicate or overstated claims," which are expected "to be substantial." But the flow gives an updated sense of the numbers seeking a share of the roughly $4 billion federal prosecutors recovered through Madoff-related forfeitures.
"Other than the Gobi desert and the polar icecaps, few places on earth seem to have escaped the scourge of this fraud," said Breeden, who described the scheme as being "of epic and truly global proportions."
Breeden said the applicants included more than 43,500 claims from those who did not seek reimbursement from the separate bankruptcy court effort to recover Madoff's assets.
Only clients who invested directly with Madoff's company, rather than through feeder funds or other intermediaries, are legally qualified to seek a share of the $9.8 billion in recoveries and settlement agreements reported to date by court-appointed trustee Irving Picard. That restriction does not apply to the fund administered by Breeden.
Picard has estimated Madoff's scam defrauded investors of approximately $20 billion.
"By far the greatest number of victims report that they have not recovered anything since the fraud," said Breeden. "For many of those individuals, the forfeiture program can be a true lifeline."
Madoff's scam collapsed in December 2008 as his clients sought their investments back amid the national financial crisis. He pleaded guilty without standing trial, and is now serving a 150-year federal prison sentence.
Five of his former employees were convicted in March on charges they knowingly participated in and profited from the scam. They potentially face decades in prison at sentencing hearings set for July.