By C. Michael Forsyth
NEW YORK CITY – The office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg is vehemently denying reports that Bernie Madoff buried more than $57 billion in stolen money somewhere in Central Park!
Rumors that the swindler squirreled away missing loot from his massive Ponzi scheme on the eve of his arrest have sparked the mother of all treasure hunts, with New Yorkers – and visitors from away as Nevada – flocking to the park nightly with shovels in hand.
“It’s like something out of that old movie ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ ” says hotdog vendor Herbert Jankowski. “During the day everything’s normal, but after sundown people are out here in droves, elbowing each other out of the way for the best spots. Not just homeless people or the unemployed. I’m talking about rich folks from the Upper East Side who look like they’ve never held a shovel before in their lives.
“I’ve even recognized a couple of celebrities, but I’m not going to mention any names.”
By the wee hours of the morning, areas like Sheep Meadow are so riddled with holes that Parks Department crews barely have time to fill them by sunrise. Mayor Bloomberg has issued an emergency order imposing a hefty fine on anyone caught digging in the park.
According to rumors that first surfaced on the Internet last year, eyewitnesses saw Madoff exit his swank Park Avenue apartment at about 2:30 a.m. on December 11, 2008. He walked in the direction of the park — toting large heavy black gym bags. Yet FBI surveillance footage shows him returning home at approximately 4:10 carrying nothing. He was arrested hours later.
City officials dismiss all that as an urban legend that has gotten out of hand.
“We have absolutely no evidence that Mr. Madoff buried anything in the Central Park,” a spokesman said. “People are defacing the park, one of this city’s most precious resources, for no reason.”
Only two facts are certain. The crooked financier was convicted of stealing as much as $65 billion from his wealthy clients. And only about $7.6 billion was ever recovered. Which leaves $57.4 billion unaccounted for.Treasure hunter Bryan “Chip” Munglon, who led the team that found pirate queen Anne Bonny’s lost booty in 2001, has been combing the park for nearly a month. He admits he’s not sure that there’s buried treasure there at all.
“I can think of a dozen reasons why I should pack up my digging gear and go home,” said Munglon. “And I can think of 57 billion reasons why I should keep looking.”
The FBI concurs with New York authorities that there is “no basis whatsoever” for believing Madoff’s millions are nestled underground.
As for the missing dough, “Money simply disappears all the time, as anyone familiar with criminal investigations will tell you,” said an FBI spokesman. “We do not believe Mr. Madoff converted his illegally obtained assets to cash and concealed them.
“But if any civilian were to recover money from the park, those funds would of course be government property and it would be that individual’s duty to turn it over to the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth
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