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The Madoff auction

Bidding was strong when several boats owned by disgraced Wall Street high-flyer Bernie Madoff were sold at auction.

What would you be willing to pay for a stack of cocktail napkins imprinted with the private flag of disgraced financier Bernard Lawrence Madoff’s yacht, or for cocktail glasses bearing the same imprimatur, or for the flag itself — a white swallowtail pennant emblazoned with the image of a black bull scratching the ground and Madoff’s initials branded on its rump?

If you wanted to buy the napkins, glasses, pennant or a painting of a big red bull symbolizing Madoff’s former life as a high-flying Wall Street investor, you would have had to buy the yacht — Bull, his classic 1969 Rybovich 55-foot sportfisherman — where he kept all of this personalized paraphernalia. And you would have had to pay more than $700,000, the high bid for Bull at a Nov. 17 U.S. Marshal’s auction in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Madoff’s Sitting Bull, a custom 2003 38-foot Shelter Island Runabout similar to crooner Billy Joel’s, sold for $320,000, and Little Bull, a 24-foot Maverick center console, fetched $21,000. Also on the auction block: a 2003 61-foot Viking sportfisherman, Dorothy Jo, seized from Frank DePascali Jr., Madoff’s chief financial officer. It fetched $950,000, according to U.S. Marshals spokesman Barry Golden. Ruth Madoff’s 1999 black Mercedes-Benz convertible — with just 12,827 miles on it — sold for $30,000.

The total haul at auction for the Madoff-related toys was $2,021,000.

“All the sales exceeded our expectations,” Golden says. “It was absolutely a great day for the victims. That always has been our goal — [restitution for] the victims.”

The stuff of Bernie and Ruth Madoff’s life — anything 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. An auction of 200 items at Manhattan’s Sheraton hotel three days earlier drew 700 bidders on-site and 1,500 more on the Web — and raised $1 million, twice what was expected.

In fact, Crane says Madoff memorabilia has been going for “astronomical” sums. Madoff’s blue satin New York Mets baseball jacket with “Madoff” stitched on the back had been valued at $720. It sold for $14,500 at the Manhattan auction. The jacket comes with a poignant story. Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz gave him the jacket, and they are among the thousands he defrauded.

The yacht auction was held at National Liquidators, a repo and resale company where the Madoff yachts were stored after being seized April 1. To draw more bidders, the auction also offered three repossessed yachts — a 1993 95-foot Devo Mill, a 2008 74-foot Novatec, and 2004 68-foot Uniesse, all motoryachts seized from their owners for default on their loan payments. Golden says 70 bidders turned out. Organizers had been expecting 40.

At least for now, the notorious Madoff name sells. Mastermind of a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, the 71-year-old Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.