Climb aboard Bernie Madoff’s yachts

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What does disgraced financier Bernard Madoff's 55-footRybovichlook like below deck?Soundings senior writer Jim Flannery got a chance to step aboard the 1969 sportfisherman and two other Madoff boats the day before they were sold last week at auction.

The $1,041,000 his boats fetched will go toward compensating victims of his Ponzi scheme.

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Editor Bill Sisson talks with Flannery about what it was like to board the now-infamous Bull, Little Bull and Sitting Bull (more about the boats below) and about the media circus that surrounded the auction. Click play to listen and see images from that day.

The yacht auction took place at National Liquidators, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based repo and resale company where the Madoff boats had been stored since their April 1 seizure.

Seventy bidders turned out for the private auction, according to U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Barry Golden. Bidders had to plunk down $100,000 up front to register to bid on Bull and Sitting Bull, a custom 2003 38-footShelter Island Runabout. To bid on Little Bull, Madoff's 24-foot Maverick center console, they had to lay out $50,000.

To draw more bidders, National Liquidators also auctioned three repossessed yachts: a 1993 95-foot Devo Mill, a 2008 74-foot Novatec, and 2004 68-foot Uniesse. All three motoryachts were seized from their owners for defaulting on loan payments.

"We've seen a bit of an increase in big-yacht repos - yachts with higher dollar balances and higher dollar value," says Bob Toney, president and CEO of National Liquidators.

The stuff of Bernie and Ruth Madoff's life - everything from bric-a-brac to Mets jackets, boogie boards, artwork, jewelry, yachts and mansions - has been fetching a pretty good price, says Jenny Crane of the U.S. Marshals Service asset forfeiture division in Washington, D.C. A Nov. 14 auction of 200 items at New York City's Sheraton Manhattan hotel drew 700 bidders on-site and 1,500 more on the Internet - and raised $1 million, twice what was expected.

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Crane says the auctions have created a new market for Madoff memorabilia. Some items already were up for resale on eBay two days after the Manhattan auction. "There's definitely a lot of interest," Crane says.

Mastermind of a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, 71-year-old Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence. The total haul at auction for the Madoff-related toys was $2,021,000, which will go toward restitution for Madoff's victims.

Madoff's fleet

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BULL

Bull, Madoff's 1969 55-foot Rybovich sold for $700,000. Powered by new twin 860-hp diesels, the sportfisherman was immaculately kept, but is Spartan below. "Built for guys to get out and go fishing," says Bill O'Dell, National Liquidators' operations manager. It is equipped with an outside elevator that Madoff used to get from the cockpit to the flybridge. National Liquidators captains seized Bull from Roscioli Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale, where it had recently undergone a $130,000 renovation. "It's a 40-year-old museum piece," O'Dell says.

SITTING BULL

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Sitting Bull, a custom 2003 38-foot Shelter Island Runabout similar to crooner Billy Joel's, sold for $320,000. Sitting Bull's traditional styling shows a low-slung profile with a tall bow and plenty of wood trim. "This is a tooling-around boat, a showing-off boat," one aboard which Madoff likely squired his clients, says National Liquidators repo captain Larry Miller. Miller says he doubts Madoff used the boats to fish, but rather to lure "marks" into his web of deceit. "They were intended to impress," he says. National Liquidators seized the $430,000 yacht from Montauk (N.Y.) Marine Basin.

LITTLE BULL

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Little Bull, a 24-foot Maverick, fetched $21,000. National Liquidators seized the center console from a warehouse in Palm Bay, Fla.

More from this issue

* It seems like it was just yesterday

* Photo contest finalists

* An eye on the Northwest Passage