"We lost 95 percent of everything we had worked for and saved for our entire life," says Stephie Halio, 66. Now she and her 68-year-old husband Robert – admittedly once well to do after decades in business – have put a one-time vacation home in fashionable Wainscott, New York on the market. They expect to take a loss. "We want to cover the mortgage," she said, and, as importantly, get out from under the area's notoriously high utility and fuel bills which they can no longer afford.
From Halio's perspective, the Madoff investment was "endorsed by the government." Although the SEC does not endorse investments, she felt that at the end of a 1992 SEC investigation into two accountants who fed money into Madoff's fund, "the government sanctioned this outfit as a safe investment."
For its part, some SEC officials concede that they, as much as any investor, were duped by Madoff.
"We worked night and day and saved everything. We didn't go out and buy flat screen TVs. We didn't go in to credit card debt," Halio said. Now she and her husband sit in a darkened Boca Raton, Florida home – a nice home bought with the proceeds from his process serving business – but one where electricity is conserved, the air conditioning it turned to off and two one-time retirees are looking for work.
"We sit in the dark. We haven't bought a thing. We don't go to restaurants. We don't go to movies. We live in a beautiful home but we know we won't be able to keep it. We are in the process of sending out fliers and offering transportation to people and house watching," she said.
SEC officials tell ABC News that they are working with SIPC and the U.S. Attorney to ensure that the victims are compensated fairly for their losses.