NEW YORK — It was about fascination with big money — and the life of a couple at the center of the biggest financial fraud case in U.S. history.
Bernard and Ruth Madoff's belongings fetched as much as 20 times their estimated value at auction Saturday.
Alan Richardson, a Florida dealer, almost got the fallen financier's blue satin New York Mets baseball jacket with his surname stitched on the back, valued at up to $720. The bidder lost — just shy of the $14,500 final price.
Two pairs of Ruth Madoff's diamond dangle earrings sold for $70,000 each, against a pre-sale estimate of no more than $9,800 and $21,400. But the most highly prized item in the sale, Bernard Madoff's Rolex watch, fetched only $65,000, paid by an unknown buyer. The watch was valued between $75,000 and $85,000.
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The auction, in the main ballroom of a Manhattan hotel, was organized by the U.S. Marshals Service, which seized the couple's properties — a penthouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side and houses in Montauk, N.Y., and Palm Beach, Fla.
Inside the homes were some of the items on the block Saturday, ordered forfeited as part of Madoff's sentencing after he pleaded guilty in a multibillion-dollar fraud that burned thousands of investors. Proceeds from the auction will be divided among his victims.
Excitement filled the ballroom as people participating in the auction, run by Texas-based Gaston & Sheehan, bid for items they could afford without being as rich as Madoff was.
Charlie Blumenkehl raised his hand for a set of Madoff's golf irons, clinching them for $3,600, against a $350-to-$400 estimate.
"I just wanted Bernie's name on the clubs," the New Jersey fund manager said with a laugh, adding, "but I don't want his vibes to be transmitted — my fund is doing better than his."
The nearly 200 lots were an assembly line of conspicuous consumption, fueled by proceeds from the tens of billions of dollars that Madoff's Ponzi scheme cost investors.