Local investors lose big in Madoff scam

February 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
It was not just the rich and famous who were customers of accused swindler Bernie Madoff. A bankruptcy court in New York Wednesday released a list of names and it shows at least 149 Bay Area residents and businesses invested money with Madoff.

Local investors lose big in Madoff scam

Berkeley artist Elizabeth Ennis and her husband Marc Rosenberg are trying to downsize their lives after losing their entire savings in the Madoff scheme.

"We lost about $500,000, all of Marc's IRA and it was most of the income we were living on," Ennis said.

Ennis' father began investing with Madoff in the 1970's and the rest of the family then put their money and trust in him too.

Madoff was arrested in New York in December and is accused of operating a Ponzi scheme that took money from new investors to pay off previous ones. Prosecutors say it was a fraud that could run as high as $50 billion.

The newly-released list of those who say they were swindled runs 162 pages, with about 80 names a page and includes celebrities like actor Kevin Bacon and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax; but many are small investors.

Click here to read the full list of Madoff's clients.

Retired Oakland educator Steven Falk thought it seemed like a good investment. He lost more than $300,000 and is a little put off by people who say he should have known better.

"That's the easiest thing in the world after something doesn't go right, but there wasn't any big voice saying that before, nor was the government indicating anything that we should be careful of this," Falk said.

The government's investor protection agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission is now under intense scrutiny from Congress for failing to uncover the scandal.

Investors have filed claims against Madoff but it is unclear if they will ever recoup any money.

90-year-old man returns to work

A 90-year-old man from Santa Cruz County is out of retirement and back in the workforce. He and his wife are among those who lost everything in the alleged Ponzi scheme masterminded by Bernie Madoff. It's a story ABC7 learned about from their media partner, the San Jose Mercury News.

"How much money did you lose?" asked ABC7's Lilian Kim.
"Over $730,000," said Ian Thiermann, a Ponzi scheme victim.
"That was all your savings?" asked Kim.
"Yup. That was all of our savings," said Thiermann.

Ian Thiermann is broke. The retirement fund he and his wife, Terry, spent decades building, has been wiped out.

Like thousands of other people, the Ben Lomond couple put their money into what they thought was a safe and credible investment group led by former NASDAQ Chairman Bernie Madoff. Instead, prosecutors say it was a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that included high profile victims such as Kevin Bacon, Sandy Koufax, and Steven Spielberg.

"It took my breath is all I could say. Oh really? I mean is that possible?" said Thiermann.

For the Thiermann's, life as they know it is over. No longer can they devote most of their time volunteering like they have been doing since they retired twenty years ago. Instead, Ian at 90-years-old is back at work as a greeter at the Ben Lomond market. The owner offered the $10-an-hour job after learning about the couple's troubles.

Ian Thiermann has been working now for the past week and a half. He doesn't work full time, but he does work quite a lot. Six hours a day, five days a week.

"I'm still healthy enough to work as I say to work," said Thiermann.

"I think he's amazing and so I absolutely appreciate what he's doing," said Terry Thiermann.

Tough economic times have hit the Thiermann family before. Ian's father committed suicide during the Great Depression. This couple, though, refuses to get depressed or even angry about what's happened to them. They say they are grateful for their friends and family who are offering help and support.

"If you went into a depression and sat around and moped and cried, all you get back is depression and that's not how either of us have ever dealt with life," said Terry.

There's more on the Thiermanns in Friday's San Jose Mercury News.