Irving Picard, the trustee in charge of liquidating Bernie Madoff's estate, has filed suit against J. Ezra Merkin, the manager of Bernie Madoff feeder fund Ascot Partners, in hopes of recovering upwards of $500 million of “nonexistent principal” that Merkin withdrew throughout the years. Merkin, an Upper East Side patron of the arts and "intellectual showman," was also sued last month by New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo and his billionaire client Mort Zuckerman, both of whom accused Merkin of recklessly dumping clients' money with Madoff without performing due diligence. But while those suits made Merkin sound more clueless than criminal — like he talked a good game, but in the end wasn't smart enough to do his job properly — Picard thinks he was smart enough, and merely chose to look the other way.
Defendant J. Ezra Merkin is a sophisticated investment manager who was a close business and social associate of Madoff. Merkin, individually or through his company Gabriel Capital Corporation, managed several funds which, from at least 1995 through 2008, collectively drew more than $500 million of nonexistent principal from BLMIS prior to the collapse of the Ponzi scheme. In connection with these investments, Merkin, individually or through Gabriel Capital Corporation, "earned" even though he knew or should have known.
It sounds like Merkin should have adopted the guiding principle we adopted early on in our lives, which is that it's far better to be an admitted ignoramus than a know-it-all. If you go around pretending you're smart, someone's going to hold you to it.