Madoff investor who lost $1.4B apparently committed suicide

ByPallavi Gogoi and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY
December 23, 2008, 9:48 PM

NEW YORK -- The co-founder of a fund that invested $1.4 billion in disgraced financier Bernie Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme was found dead in his office Tuesday of an apparent suicide.

Paramedics responding to a Midtown Manhattan office at 7:50 a.m. found a body with no pulse later identified as Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, co-founder of Access International Advisors.

Detective Martin Speechley of the New York Police Department said that there was no suicide note but that there were lacerations on de la Villehuchet's arms, a box cutter and pills near his body, that one of his legs was up on the desk, and that a trash can was placed nearby, possibly to catch blood.

Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city medical examiner, said the autopsy on de la Villehuchet had been completed Wednesday. She said the medical examiner was awaiting toxicology reports before determining the cause of death.

French newspaper La Tribune reported de la Villehuchet committed suicide under pressure from the Madoff scandal.

Access International was one of the feeder funds into Luxalpha SICAV-American Selection, which invested solely with Madoff, the man who authorities allege operated a Ponzi scheme that lost more than $50 billion of investors' money. Access' investments with Madoff were reported at $1.4 billion, according to Infovest 21, a hedge fund newsletter. Access sent clients a letter in which it called the Madoff arrest on Dec. 11 "a shocking development," Bloomberg News reported.

Although Access raised money from European investors, de la Villehuchet operated the fund out of a Madison Avenue office just three blocks from New York's famed Lipstick building, where Madoff's company was based.

Access was one of the many that got snared in a scheme in which prosecutors say Madoff used money from new investors to pay off existing shareholders to make it appear he generated steady returns. The list of victims ranges from individual investors who have lost their life's savings, to charities of the rich and famous, to some of the world's biggest financial services firms. A handful of foundations have shut down after they lost endowments that had been invested with Madoff.

Prosecutors have charged Madoff with securities fraud, for which he faces up to 20 years in prison and $5 million in fines. Investigators are poring through records from Madoff's office and questioning those who worked with him to determine the size of losses and to see if anyone else was involved.

Madoff is currently out on bail, after posting a $10 million bond, guaranteed by his homes in Montauk, Long Island, and Palm Beach, Fla. Madoff, 70, wears an electronic bracelet and is confined to his $7 million Manhattan apartment.

A message left Tuesday at de la Villehuchet's home in New Rochelle, a northern suburb of New York City, was not returned. He lived in an affluent suburb in Westchester County with his wife, Claudine.

De la Villehuchet was an esteemed financier who tapped his upper-crust European connections to attract clients. It was not immediately clear how he knew Madoff or who his clients were.

He grew increasingly subdued after the Madoff scandal broke, drawing suspicion among janitors at his office Monday night when he demanded that they be out by 7 p.m.

A partner in the firm asked a security guard later in the evening to check and see if De La Villehuchet was still there, but the door was locked, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

When a guard came into the 22nd-story office suite the next morning, less than 13 hours later, the Frenchman was dead, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

His death came as swindled investors began looking for ways to recoup their losses. Funds that lost big to Madoff are also facing investor lawsuits and backlash for failing to properly vet Madoff and overlooking red flags that could have steered them away. It's not immediately known what kind of scrutiny de la Villehuchet was facing over his losses.

De la Villehuchet (pronounced veel-ou-SHAY) comes from rich French lineage, with the Magon part of his name referring to one of France's most powerful families. The Magon name is listed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a monument commissioned by Napoleon in 1806.

"He's irreproachable," said Bill Rapavy, who was Access International's chief operating officer before founding his own firm in 2007.

De la Villehuchet's firm enlisted intermediaries with links to wealthy Europeans to garner investors. Among them was Philippe Junot, a French businessman and friend who is the former husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Prince Michel of Yugoslavia.

De la Villehuchet, the former chairman and chief executive of Credit Lyonnais Securities USA, was also known as a keen sailor who regularly participated in regattas and was a member of the New York Yacht Club.

Guy Gurney, a British photographer living in Connecticut, was friends with de la Villehuchet. The two often sailed together and competed in a regatta in France in November.

"He was a very honorable man," Gurney said. "He was extraordinarily generous. He was an aristocrat but not a snob. He was a real person. When he was sailing, he was one of the boys."

The two were supposed to have dinner last Friday but Gurney called the day before to cancel because of the weather. During the call, de la Villehuchet revealed he had been ensnared in Madoff scandal.

"He sounded very subdued," Gurney said.

Gurney said de la Villehuchet was happily married to his wife.

"I can't imagine what it's like for her now," he said.

Contributing: USA TODAY reporter Haya El Nasser in McLean, Va.; wire reports

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