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Yet Another Prominent Billionaire Dies Mysteriously


By Pat Shannan

The largest beneficiary of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme was found dead at the bottom of his Palm Beach, Fla. swimming pool on October 25. Jeffrey Picower, accused of profiting more than $7 billion from Bernard Madoff’s investment scheme, was found in the pool at his $33 million ocean side mansion where he had presumably drowned. He was 67.

Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after he admitted losing billions of dollars for thousands of clients over a half-century career that saw him rise to be a Nasdaq chairman, and Picower was in current civil litigation.

Palm Beach Fire Department spokesman Joe Sekula said that Picower’s body showed no visible injuries, but police, while investigating the case as a “drowning,” were not ruling out anything on the cause of death, presumably because of the precarious legal position Picower was in at the time.

“There wasn’t anything noted as far as trauma or anything to the body,” he said, “it did appear that he was swimming because he was wearing swimming trunks.”

Picower’s health was described as “poor,” and he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had heart problems, according to family spokesmen.

In a lawsuit to recover Madoff’s assets, trustee Irving Picard had demanded Picower return more than $7 billion in bogus profits. But the trustee’s lawyer said Picower’s claims that he was a victim “ring hollow” because he withdrew more of other investors’ money than anyone else during three decades and should have noticed signs of fraud. According to the lawyers, Picower’s accounts were “riddled with blatant and obvious fraud,” and he should have recognized that because he was a sophisticated investor.

Jonathan Landers, an attorney representing a large group of victims, said in an email that it was impossible to tell what effect Picower’s death would have on efforts to recover funds lost in Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme.


Meanwhile, such situations always give rise to “conspiracy theories” and cause to recall previous suspicious deaths of people who knew “too much,” such as the D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey and Hillary Clinton’s former law partner and lover, Vince Foster. Only six months ago, the CEO of the troubled Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”) was found dead in the basement of his home in Vienna, Va.

However, The Wall Street Journal had recently reported that Freddie Mac’s David Kellerman was not a target of any investigation. Yet at only 41 years of age and in good health, the question loomed: was this really a suicide or was he “suicided?” And if he had been, was it because of what he might tell in court?


Consider the dubious death of former Enron executive J. Clifford Baxter in January of 2002. Baxter, only 43, had shown no signs of suicidal tendencies and had even spoken of hiring a bodyguard only two days before his death. He was found with multiple shots to the head that were later ruled to be a suicide.

These shots were then determined to be from a .38 caliber weapon firing rat shot, a mini-shotgun shell designed to spread. However, in order have produced the wide pattern, the gun would have had to have been held farther from Baxter’s head than his arm would reach.

Rat shot is the perfect murder ammunition because, unlike a solid bullet, there is no ballistics test that can match rat shot to the gun that fired it.

The most disturbing account of Baxter’s last days comes from a former business associate who spoke to The New York Times but was not identified by the newspaper. This person spoke with the former Enron vice chairman two days before his death and congratulated him “for being named among those people who complained about Enron.” The associate added that Baxter “was talking about perhaps needing a bodyguard.”

Whether Picower’s death in Palm Beach proves to be from natural causes, accidental or murder, it already has case watchers wondering: who’s next?

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(Issue # 45, November 9, 2009)

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