Federal prosecutors allowed Ruth Madoff to get her passport back today, in what people involved in the case said was "a clear sign" she will not be prosecuted as an accomplice in her husband's $65 billion Ponzi scheme.
She had surrendered the passport as part of her husband's bail condition, and Judge Denny Chin authorized the court's pre-trial services division to return it to her, in an order entered yesterday.
"If you were going to charge her, you would not give her the means to leave the country," said one person involved in the case.
Ruth helped her husband start his business in the 1960's and helped keep the books. She maintained an office at her husband's firm and spent several days a week there, although friends and former employees said her duties involved no more than balancing the checkbook.
"She made sure that the entries matched what was on the bank statement," said one person close to her. "She was completely unaware that Bernie was running a scam until he told her."
In the weeks before Madoff's arrest, Ruth transferred $15.5 million invested with her husband's firm to another bank.
Ruth's lawyer, Peter Chavkin, declined to comment.
Late last week, Ruth was forced out of her penthouse apartment in New York City as U.S. Marshals took possession of the property. Earlier, they had seized the Madoff homes in Palm Beach, Florida and Montauk, on New York's Long Island.
She is expected to find a new home soon, somewhere in the United States, according to people close to her.
In a statement issued on the day of her husband's court appearance, she said, "I am embarrassed and ashamed. Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused."
She has confided to friends that she felt her husband became trapped in his "awful situation." Her sons, Mark and Andrew, have not talked to her since their father's arrest and she has told people close to her she feels "lonely and shunned."
The U.S. Attorney's Office had no comment.