Madoff Assets Liquidated, Monies Released

A federal bankruptcy judge approved the release of more than $28 million in assets belonging to accused swindler Bernard Madoff to pay to costs related to his case.

Madoff is accused of bilking investors out of $50 billion through a Ponzi scheme that he allegedly ran through his investment advisory business.

$883,000 has already been transferred to trustees to pay employees’ salaries and health care benefits. They are also selling off assets to recover funds for the investors who lost money held by Madoff.

Madoff remains in his Manhattan apartment under 24-hour house arrest after paying his $10 million bail.

“Please Save My Home” sued by Ohio AG

The owner of the allegedly corrupt foreclosure rescue business “Please Save My Home” has been sued by the Ohio Attorney General.

The lawsuit filed earlier this week seeks to refund defrauded customers of the Conneaut, Ohio-based, business, and put an end to its allegedly fraudulent operations.

James R. Van Putten is named in the lawsuit as owner of “Please Save My Home.”

According to court records obtained for a report in The (Akron) Suburbanite, Van Putten obtained names of homeowners in foreclosure through court records and contacted each by direct mail.

In his mailings, Van Putten claimed his firm “Please Save My Home” could rescue the homeowner from foreclosure. He charged an initial fee of $650 and received it from numerous recipients.

However, Van Putten became invisible after this mailing. The business did nothing to save homeowners and he was not reachable by telephone by any of his clients.

Van Putten is being charged in Ohio with unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the state’s Consumer Sales Practices Act, the Telephone Solicitation Sales Act and the Debt Adjuster’s Act.

Van Putten claimed he would provide homeowners in distress with legal representation, forbearance agreements and loan modifications to ensure homeowners would not be forced into the streets.

This case is just one of thousands across the country, showing both the distressed nature of the economy with so many people not able to afford to buy and keep homes, but the willingness of people to commit fraud at any costs.

The vultures who perpetrate these schemes prey on the weakness of the moment. No one wants to be forced from their home – not physically nor for pride’s sake – and many people are willing to accept any assistance in such desperate times.

Date Set for Madoff Ponzi Scheme Hearing

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on January 5th to examine the $50 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly run by money manager Bernard Madoff.

Madoff, 70, was arrested December 11th, after telling his two sons and federal investigators that he had been using money from new investors to pay off old ones in what may be the biggest such swindle in history.

The Securities and Exchange Commission will also be conducting an internal probe to review revelations that it failed to act for nearly a decade on allegations of wrongdoing by Madoff.

Text message prices called into question

The U.S. Senate is conducting an investigation into why wireless phone carriers charge what they do for text messages.

In the past five years the average cost of a text message has doubled while the industry has shrunk to about a handful of carriers.

The Senate antitrust committee has sent invitations to representatives with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile to discuss their text message pricing policies.

According to a New York Times article, the four major carriers have all double the price of a regular text message from 10 cents to 20 per message.

At least 2.5 trillion messages have been sent, an incredible 32 percent increase from 2007. Experts believe that number could increase to 3.3 trillion worldwide by the end of next year.

The Senate committee would like to know what the actual costs of supplying text message service are for companies. In written responses to the Senate, each company artfully dodged the directed query.

At least two class-action lawsuits have been filed against AT&T and other carriers alleging price fixing on text messaging.

While that company defends its actions, T-Mobile goes farther by saying if a customer took advantage of a monthly fee for text messages, the cost would be about 1 penny per message. It said the company’s revenue from text messages has dropped by half since 2005.

And while the phone carriers continue to elude the question at hand, the basic knowledge of the technology will tell anyone familiar that the costs of each message to the consumer are greatly exaggerated over the actual costs.

Messages require only the wireless connection from the phone and aren’t stored in any physical location other than a recipient’s phone memory.

Since these messages are typically very small in file size, even the cost of transporting each message isn’t high.

Of course, all the science in the world will only need to serve as proof-positive if wireless carriers continue to avoid making public their costs of offering text message services.

Madoff Scheme Investigation Includes Middlemen

Investigators probing the Madoff investment scandal are beginning to turn their attentions to the middlemen who attracted billions of investment dollars to Madoff’s funds.

There are no allegations that the middlemen knew anything about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but investigators are interested in what they told clients about how their money was going to be invested.

Robert Jaffe, Stanley Chais, Jeffrey Tucker, Andres Piedrahita, and Robert Schulman all lost personal fortunes as well as those of investors who had entrusted them with their money.

A sixth middleman, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, died in an apparent suicide on December 23. He had lost his life savings due to Madoff’s scheme.

At last count, wealthy individuals, foundations and banking giants have disclosed some $30 billion of losses. Madoff himself claimed potential losses of up to $50 billion.

Madoff’s family, associates questioned of their knowledge of fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission is widening its probe into Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

Madoff has two sons and each has publicly said they knew nothing of their father’s alleged wrongdoing. The same can be said for other members of Madoff’s family, all who can probably be expected to meet with countless federal investigators as prosecutors find what they can charge against the former chairman of Nasdaq.

The Wall Street Journal reports a person close to the investigation said the SEC is casting a wide net in its investigation as it sees just how much impact the alleged scheme had on how many people.

Madoff’s three-man accounting team has been subpoenaed as have other employees, yet the ringleader remains the only person charged.

Investigators also want to know what feeder funds told their investors about where their money was headed. Much of the money invested with Madoff came from feeder funds, which attracts money from around the world.

Of those claiming nearly complete or catastrophic losses because they invested their money with Madoff are New York University (about $24 million) and the foundation for Eli Weisel.

Diet Coke Plus Nutrition Claims Violate FDA Policy, Coca-Cola Warned

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has warned The Coca-Cola Company that claims associated with their Diet Coke Plus product violates U.S. policy against marketing soda and other snack foods as more nutritious, or “fortified.”

The FDA allows boosted nutrition claims when foods or beverages contain at least 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of a vitamin or mineral. But the claims cannot apply to soda or certain foods, including candy.

The Coca-Cola Company has 15 days to outline plans to correct the issue, and they have stated that they would reply to the FDA letter in early January.

It is not clear if the FDA was seeking to remove the product from the U.S. market.

Debt Relief Scams On Rise As Recession Deepens

The economic recession has unleashed a plague of schemes, scams and dubious sales tactics targeting people with financial woes.

From debt relief to amazing investments, people are getting scammed in record numbers. The Attorney General’s Office reports that complaints about debt relief scams have spiked 62 percent this year.

The most common scams are credit card debt relief and mortgage fraud, where scammers do not tell their victims that a considerable amount of early payments are going to them and not to the companies to which the debt is owed.

Often, the scammers never contact the credit card company or bank.

Hedge fund managers overlooked obvious signs of Madoff fraud

Hedge fund managers caught up in the whirlwind of success that followed Bernard Madoff overlooked obvious signs they were being duped.

What’s trouble is the fact that hedge fund managers are paid to keep on the lookout for shaky investment opportunities. Based on his previous successes and obvious connections to the market, Madoff was able to pitch anything as a good deal. Hedge fund managers were the equivalent of star-struck.

Madoff allegedly paid off old investors with money gotten from newer investors into his Ponzi scheme. The money eventually caught up to Madoff when those looking for returns on older investments were turned away because there was no money to be had.

Blame can be placed on regulators for missing the signs, too, but managers were caught up in making money, failing to do even any cursory research to see their investments were fraudulent.

According to an article from Associated Press, advisors were focused on financial risk over operational risk when investing into Madoff’s deals. The cost to properly investigate the legitimacy of the investment did not outweigh the near instantaneous returns Madoff offered.

Fed unveils nursing home ratings Web site

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has unveiled a Web site which provides ratings for the nation’s abundant nursing homes.

As reports of nursing home abuse and neglect continue to rise, the new Web site aims to provide families exploring assisted living options with a central location for independent information.

The site can be found at www.medicare.gov.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services oversee the insurance programs of the same name which pay for nursing home care. The site has ratings on the 15,800 nursing homes which participate in the public insurance system, according to Reuters.

The site provides information such as the percent of patients who reported bed sores after their first 90 days at the home. Also, the percent of patients whose condition worsened upon their arrival at a home is examined.

At least 3 million Americans need to explore nursing home options throughout a given year. At a number of facilities, patients are often neglected either due to negligent staff, or lack of sufficient staffing.

While the new Web site seems to be a step in a positive direction, and regulators are promising to update the site monthly, federal agencies seem to have a difficult time staying independent and almost a penchant for accepting biased information. Yes, the information obtained on the site can be useful but must also be weighed with parallel information.