Hedge fund manager Merkin to sell art trove for $310M, could eventually help Madoff victims

Madoff ‘feeder’ Merkin parts with art trove

NEW YORK — It’s been a bad few months for New York financier J. Ezra Merkin. First, his hedge funds lost $2.4 billion in the Bernard Madoff swindle. Then, he lost his post as chairman of GMAC Financial Services.

Now, he’s parting with his prized art collection.

Bombarded by lawsuits accusing him of fraud, Merkin and his wife have arranged to sell their impressive collection of paintings by abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, as well as some valuable sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, according to legal papers filed Tuesday.

An anonymous buyer has agreed to pay $310 million for the trove, the filing said.

The profits, however, won’t be finding their way into Merkin’s pockets anytime soon.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a lawsuit in April accusing him of various wrongdoing in connection the Madoff scandal, and sought the art and other assets to compensate his many wiped-out investors.

That suit has yet to be decided, and until it is, money from the sale will be held in escrow, under a deal between the two sides.

“This will preserve assets that, if our litigation is successful, will provide restitution to victims of Mr. Merkin’s alleged fraud,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Minus taxes, fees, and amounts due to other people with a stake in the paintings, the sale could raise $191 million for Merkin’s disgruntled clients, Cuomo’s office said.

Merkin’s attorney said in a statement that the money manager continues to maintain that he did nothing wrong but agreed to the escrow arrangement so the sale could go through.

“The Merkins believe the lawsuits are without merit,” said the lawyer, Andrew Levander.

Cuomo’s suit accuses Merkin of improperly funneling billions to Madoff while misleading some clients about where their money was going. The complaint also accuses him of lying about his role in supervising the investments.

Merkin has also been sued by many of his former clients, and by the court-appointed trustee trying to unravel Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. All are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in Merkin’s personal assets. It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether any of those people would also lay claim to the proceeds of the art sale.

Madoff was sentenced Monday to a 150-year prison term.

Merkin does not face criminal charges. Levander said his client was truthful with investors and duped by Madoff, just like everyone else.


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