Spielberg Among the Big Names Allegedly Burned by Madoff in $50 Billion Fraud Case

How did investors like Steven Spielberg lose in Madoff meltdown?

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 15, 2008, 8:44 AM

Dec. 15, 2008 — -- Director Steven Spielberg is only one of many prominent investors who were allegedly swindled by one of Wall Street's biggest money managers, Bernard Madoff.

Publishing and real estate magnate Mort Zuckerman, former New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Fred Wilpon, the owner of the New York Mets baseball franchise, are also among those who were reportedly burned in what prosecutors call a massive Ponzi scheme that was revealed after the collapse of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, according to The Wall Street Journal. Losses from the alleged fraud could reach $50 billion.

Spielberg's charity, the Wunderkinder Foundation, invested nearly 70 percent of its money with Madoff, said The Wall Street Journal. Other charitable organizations that invested with Madoff may have to shut their doors.

And average investors like Arnold and Joan Sinkin said they were stunned when they learned "in one telephone call" that their retirement fund had vanished.

The Sinkins had saved close to $1 million during Arnold Sinkin's 54-year career as a carpet salesman, and all their money was managed by Madoff.

"This is what they refer to as the golden years, where you retire, you try to enjoy life. And then you get wiped out in 48 hours," Sinkin, 76, said.

The Sinkins said they have no choice but to sell their dream home. "Everything we planned for our whole lives is gone. We just don't know where to turn. Who's gonna help us?" asked Sinkin.

The Sinkins and other investors wonder how Madoff was able to get away with the fraud for so long, and industry experts ask whether the Securities and Exchange Commission was asleep at the wheel.

Securities executive Harry Markopolos raised an alarm in 1999 when he warned the SEC it should investigate Madoff because he thought it was impossible for the kind of profit Madoff was making to have been gained legally.

Financial industry experts said that one bad trade could have set the entire scheme into motion. When that may have happened, however, is unclear.

"Most of these Ponzi schemes, so-called Ponzi schemes, start out with an honest investment firm and honest intentions, and for whatever reason, a trade gone bad, you start to rob from Peter to pay Paul until Peter's no longer available and it starts to feed on itself. That's what essentially is the speculation of what happened. The timing of when that actually kicked into gear, we don't know yet," Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, said.