Government Sells Spoils of Madoff's Lavish Life

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NEW YORK - Anyone wanting to walk in the shoes of fallen financier Bernard Madoff was in luck Saturday: Thousands of belongings from his New York City penthouse, including his used shoes, went on the auction block.

An anonymous bidder paid the highest price of the auction - $550,000 - for a 10.5-carat diamond engagement ring that belonged to Madoff's wife, Ruth. The winning bid topped the $300,000 minimum pre-sale estimate.

Ruth Madoff's French diamond earrings fetched the next highest price. Valued at $100,000 to $137,500, they went for $135,000 to an undisclosed buyer.

The man who became a symbol of greed and deceit on Wall Street also had a lavish collection of watches. One of his vintage steel Rolex "Moon Phase" watches sold for $67,500, topping a $60,000 minimum estimate.

The sale started Saturday morning at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, with an auctioneer from Texas-based Gaston & Sheehan rattling off lots at a tongue-twisting speed for more than six hours.

Buyers responded at fever pitch.

They raised their hands to signal a bid - accompanied by bloodcurdling shouts from bid-spotters marking a winning price.

Their swaggering style - as if herding bulls instead of selling Madoff's artsy ones - seemed appropriate for an auction of the belongings of a Wall Street trader who cherished the winning bull in every form. He bought statues and paintings of them and even named his boats "Bull," "Sitting Bull" and "Little Bull."

A leather bull foot stool - including a tail that had broken off - sold for $3,300, against a pre-sale estimate of $250 to $360.

While many of the more than 400 lots included luxury items, the Madoffs' penthouse did have touches of culture.

A 1917 Steinway grand piano from their living room went for $42,000 - six times the minimum estimate of $7,000. The buyer was an 81-year-old Long Island real estate executive.

"I've got loads of pianos, but this one has history - it'll make an interesting conversation piece," said John Rodger, an amateur pianist who will keep the Steinway in his home in East Islip.

An oil painting by the late American artist Frederick Carl Frieseke sold for $47,500, against a pre-sale estimate of $20,000 to $45,000.

The Manhattan sale is the last auction in New York of Madoff belongings. A third and final auction is to be held in Florida to sell off items from a Palm Beach home that went for more than $5.5 million last month.

Madoff was arrested two years ago and quickly admitted his scheme. Investigators said he used billions of dollars in cash from new investors to pay old ones, cheating charities, celebrities and institutional investors.

U.S. marshals seized everything in the Madoffs' Manhattan apartment and Long Island beach house: worn socks, new monogrammed boxer shorts, Italian velveteen slippers bearing the initials "BLM" in gold embroidery. All of it was being sold - with morbid fascination for mundane articles from the couple's daily life that also were on the block, from bed linens, clothing, cookware and luggage to intimate items like cuticle scissors and bottles of shampoo.

Besides bulls and fine watches, Madoff loved shoes. He owned about 250 pairs, many never worn - made in Italy, France, Belgium and England.

The disgraced 72-year-old convict is behind bars for life in a North Carolina prison, and his wife was ordered to leave their homes.

Despite their vast wealth, the Madoffs didn't seem to make much room for house guests.

The auction included their early 19th-century bed with fabric hangings and "intense sun fading," at a pre-auction estimate of $8,000 to $11,400.

"Just $500?" the incredulous auctioneer, Bob Sheehan, said of the first bid, adding, "This was the only bed in the whole house, I'm not kidding! $500? My God, it's not a pullout."

It sold for $2,250.

Sheehan conducted the auction for the U.S. Marshals Service, which hoped to make at least $1.2 million off the sale. Proceeds will go to more than 3,000 clients Madoff swindled in a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

U.S. Marshal Roland Ubaldo said a total for the sale would not be available for several days, but he believed it would surpass the amount the government hoped for.

A New York auction last year of Madoff's property raised $1 million. The Manhattan penthouse went for $8 million, and his yacht and boats also were sold.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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