Bernie Madoff was known to go for the good things in life: His white-glove Manhattan penthouse, a whopping 4,000 square feet (non-New Yorkers, trust me, that’s huge) is on sale for $8.9 million (down from $10 million), and his 8,750-square-foot Palm Beach getaway is also on the block. The Montauk, Long Island beach house is already gone, having sold for $9.4 million.
Madoff’s boats included a 55-foot yacht (“Bull”), a 38-foot Shelter Island runabout. He had cars, too, including a ’99 Mercedes CLK 320 convertible with 12,800 miles on the clock. Madoff got 150 years, which he’s serving in federal prison in North Carolina, so he’s not likely to be driving anytime soon. The proceeds from selling the houses, the cars and the boats go to the people he bilked.
The same thing is true of a minor leaguer in the Ponzi sweepstakes, Utah’s Jeffrey L. Mowen. First, a definition of the Ponzi scheme. It was named after Boston-based Charles Ponzi, who bilked investors out of millions in a 1920s mail coupon fraud. The Ponzi schemer uses money from new investors to pay off old ones, a strategy that leads inevitably to the whole thing collapsing like a house of cards. Madoff is only the most spectacular player in this old game, but others include Lou Pearlman, the man who created the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync.
Mowen cheated hundreds of investors of more than $18 million, then left his family and fled to Panama (where he was apprehended). For good measure, he reportedly also tried to have four witnesses killed. See video of Mowen here.
Mowen’s thefts were small compared to Madoff’s but he was more ambitious in one area: Car collecting. When he wasn’t ensnaring a new mark into his net, he was maniacally buying up cars, trucks and motorcycles. Almost 300 of them have been located in storage areas around Salt Lake, and all will be auctioned in January by the U.S. Marshal Service.
But the thing is, despite spending something like $8 million of his ill-gotten gains, Mowen had really bad taste in cars. Veteran observer Keith Martin of Sports Car Market calls Mowen’s assemblage “the most consistently bad collection of cars I’ve ever seen.” Told that some have compared to the collection to those offered at the prestigious Barrett-Jackson auctions, Martin said, “Barrett-Jackson should sue.”
Mini-Madoff Mowen was really into replicars, cheap knockoffs of valuable Porsches, Fords, Mercedes and more with modern drivetrains and plastic bodies. Martin says replicars “are poseurs, and they sell to poseurs.” Anyone for a fake Lamborghini with a Pontiac Fiero underneath? Anyone who makes a connection between Mowen’s crimes and his fondness for bogus cars is probably on solid ground. The odd actual classic, including a '69 Charger, a '92 Acura NSX and a '70 GTO Judge, probably got in there by mistake. See the full range of Mowen's pretender collection here.
The motorcycles included a clone of the Harley chopper Peter Fonda piloted in Easy Rider. He probably imagined himself a similar vagabond on the highway of life, but his future is likely to be less peripatetic. Mowen goes on trial in Utah soon.
Related on MNN: Bernie Madoff's prison is eco-friendly. Seriously.