TAMARAC, Fla. — In the Woodlands neighborhood in Tamarac, where retired residents play golf on the two 18-hole courses and gather for card games at the clubhouse, Bernie Madoff was a household name long before he was arrested for masterminding what is likely the largest investment fraud in history.
This well-manicured community of 890 homes, spanning just one square mile in northwest Broward County north of Fort Lauderdale, is home to roughly two-thirds of Tamarac's 76 Madoff investors -- more than Chicago or Los Angeles. Many had invested with Madoff for decades: One man, now the president of the Woodlands homeowners association, started in 1986 and later brought in friends from the neighborhood. Back in 1993, a representative of Madoff's firm treated about 20 investors to lunch at the Woodlands' clubhouse.
The list of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities customers, made public Wednesday, offered the first hard evidence of the fraud's full impact on South Florida. Beyond the wealthy enclaves of Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Madoff's Ponzi scheme also spread deeply among prosperous but unpretentious suburban communities like the Woodlands, where many business owners and professionals came from the Northeast to enjoy a comfortable retirement.
Now some of Mercedes Silverman's neighbors are staring at wiped-out savings, having to cut back on shopping and travel and even think about working again. While leaving the Woodlands clubhouse Friday afternoon, Silverman said she could read in her neighbors' expressions whether they had money with Madoff.
''You could see their long faces, and you'd know they were associated with him,'' said Silverman, who gave her age as over 80. ``You could see they were very depressed.''
The stories of the Woodlands residents offer a case study of how authorities say Madoff's scheme sucked in more than 11,000 clients worldwide. Through friends, relatives and accountants, they heard about the high returns his firm paid, and as they collected their checks over the years they never questioned the honesty of the former Nasdaq chairman, now under house arrest while he awaits trial in New York.
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