Madoff arriving at court in March.(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
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Bernie Madoff, Bad for More Jews

Original investors were Ruth’s parents’ friends, says New York

Jesse Oxfeld
July 07, 2009
Madoff arriving at court in March.(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

Things aren’t easy for Ruth Madoff, according to a profile in this week’s New York magazine. Her friends seem to agree that she didn’t know about her husband’s scam, her kids don’t speak to her, she gets lousy PR advice, she’s shunned by New York society, and the man to whom she’s been devoted since high school will spend the rest of his life behind bars. But, even worse, it turns out Bernie didn’t just fleece Yeshiva University and Elie Wiesel; he fleeced all of Ruth’s mishpucha, too. Ruthie Alpern and Bernie Madoff of Littleton, Queens, married in 1959, writer Sheelah Kolhatkar reports:

From then on, the Alpern and Madoff families, and business interests, became intertwined. Bernie graduated from Hofstra in 1960 and was casting about for moneymaking opportunities. Ruth’s father, a certified public accountant whose firm, Alpern & Heller, had been in business since 1948, provided the umbrella for Bernie to launch his market-making operation, buying and selling securities for other companies. Bernie quietly began an investment fund on the side, and two of Saul Alpern’s employees—the accountants Frank Avellino and Michael Bienes—started to work for him, funneling investors who wanted to get in on what were known even back then as Bernie’s guaranteed returns of 13.5 to 20 percent a year.

His earliest investors were friends of Ruth’s parents, retired teachers, accountants, and lawyers who’d sold their houses in Queens, moved down south, and had some extra money to put away. Many of them spent their summers in the bungalow colonies of the Catskills in upstate New York. “My hotel catered to retired people from Florida, my parents’ friends,” says Cynthia Arenson, a classmate of Ruth’s who ran the Sunny Oaks resort near Woodridge and whose parents were best friends with Ruth’s parents. “Thirty percent of my hotel invested in Bernie Madoff.”

Which probably means, if nothing else, that you can get a good rate at Sunny Hill this summer.

Poor Ruth [New York]

Jesse Oxfeld, a former executive editor and publisher of Tablet Magazine, is a freelance theater critic. He was The New York Observer’s theater critic from 2009 to 2014.

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