Hanukkah, which began Sunday, will not bring light and joy to the famous Modern Orthodox synagogue, situated in an upscale Manhattan neighborhood, known to many within the Jewish community as the "Fifth Avenue Synagogue."
The revelation that has dampened the joy of the holiday for the Fifth Avenue worshippers is the discovery that the Madoff scam – the $50 billion "Ponzi scheme" that may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever – cost the members of the synagogue a collective $2 billion, the New York Post reported Sunday.
The fraud has crippled the synagogue, which boasts some of New York’s elite as members.
According to the New York Post, the synagogue was a breeding ground for Madoff investors given that its president, J. Ezra Merkin, reportedly served as a powerful recruiter for the alleged scamster.
At least 10 of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue members lost millions to the scam. The report names Ira Rennert, the chairman of the synagogue board, who reportedly invested $200 million with Madoff’s company. Author and Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel was also listed as a long-time Fifth Avenue Synagogue member whose foundation lost $37 million.
Another synagogue member hurt by the scheme was investment banker Michael Jesselson, whose Orthodox Jewish school in The Bronx took a $1.3 million hit.
Gary emails: "In addition to previous disclosures of UBP and other Paris/Geneva connections, and suicide overnight, it appears anyone who was anyone in Milano and Vienna was heavily invested as well via Bank Medici, a Jewish bank based in Vienna run by the Kohn family. WSJ also reports, in separate byline, that Japanese Bank subsidiary of Ceberus is now on the line for billions as well. The Ceberus/Merkin connection remains one of two conduits (Fairfield Greenwich being the other) that account for more than half the contact losses, and nearly all of the American Jewish philanthropic losses. Investment Dealers Digest (IDD) seems to maintain the most accurate database as the story unfolds."
Vienna-based Bank Medici has emerged as one of the most exposed European banks, with roughly $2.1 billion invested with Mr. Madoff’s firm, according to people familiar with the matter. Over the past 10 days, Bank Medici Chairwoman Sonja Kohn and her husband, Erwin, have been scrambling to reassure European clients, these people said, including in Italy, where Ms. Kohn has many business relationships. Ms. Kohn, who has strong connections to the Jewish community and has long known Mr. Madoff, owns 75% of Bank Medici. Italian bank UniCredit indirectly owns 25% of Bank Medici.
In the U.S., Mr. Madoff’s earlier, smaller clients go back much further, in some cases to the early 1970s. He knew many of them personally or through loose business associations, such as accountants who did work with his firm, his family or friends. For instance, Robert Gettinger, now 82 years old, first invested with Mr. Madoff in 1973, having been introduced to him through a friend. Until two weeks ago, Mr. Gettinger says he thought his investment had grown to more than $10 million, and a trust for his sons was worth about $3 million.