Poor Little Rich Girl

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, July 16, 2009; 9:44 AM

Could you live off of $2.5 million?

That's what the wife of convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff was left with after authorities snatched just about every asset and bank account belonging to the couple.

Madoff was recently sentenced to 150 years in prison for being the mastermind behind what could be this century's largest Ponzi scheme.

Last week for the Color of Money Question I asked you whether Ruth Madoff, Bernie's wife, should have been allowed to keep $2.5 million.

Some of you said yes, she deserves the money.

"Of course Ruth should have that money. It's chump change for her and ruins her life. For me it would be no punishment, for her it's huge," wrote Coleen Hanna of Edgewater, Md.

Jeanne C. of New Hope, Pa., wrote: "Yes, I think she should be allowed to keep the money. We don't know how much she knew so I think she should have something to live on. If more info comes out that implicates her, well, that will be another story!"

Many of you weren't sympathetic:

"She should have been allowed enough to purchase an average home of $120,000 but nothing more. Those assets should have been given to the victims," said Denise Kovatch, a tax specialist from Shelby Township, Mich.

Marguerite Hill of Rockville, Md., wrote: "She shouldn't have been allowed to keep two-point-five CENTS, much less $2.5 MILLION. Let her get a taste of her sister-in-law's misery by watering plants and driving people to the airport for a few months - in a clunker."

Marshall G. in Sarasota, Fla., said, "No, give her social security and nothing more. Wait about 90 days and you'll be able to find out where a lot of the other dough is hidden."

I like the way Marshall thinks. I have no proof, but given her husband's total disregard for the law and for the many people he scammed, isn't it likely he hid money the authorities haven't yet found?

Susan Schmid of Gardnerville, Nev., condoned an amount that, "would have provided her an adequate income. What's adequate? Above poverty level, but certainly not one that supports the purchase of $7,500 handbags!"

"Mrs. Madoff is not innocent," said Yvette Yoslov of Chicago, Ill. "It simply makes me sick that these greedy, disgusting people who stole from people for years get away with $2.5 million."

And a number of you questioned her innocence (I'm right there with you baby):

"No way will I ever believe that the wife and sons were not in on the deal," said Dave Norris, who is working in Seoul, Korea. "They should all be stripped of their money and sent to jail! Also, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) needs to be investigated, and some jail time should be dispensed there as well."

Pam Rankin in Pocahontas, Ark., wrote: "I realize that Ruth Madoff has not been charged or convicted of anything. Yet for Mrs. Madoff to bat her eyelashes and say 'Poor little me, I had no idea' is disingenuous at best, flat out lies at worst."

Sandra Zahn-Oreck of Boca Raton, Fla., said, "I would guess that if one could trace that $2.5 million back, it originated from funds tied to the fraud."

"It's time we started treating 'white collar' thieves - and their wives - the same as marijuana users: long sentences in less than optimum prisons," wrote Tina Salter of Atascadero, Calif. "And our government needs to REGULATE these clowns!"

Nicholas E. Ellis, Jr. in Washington, D.C. said, "Ruth Madoff should not be allowed to keep any of the money. Who knows if it's not part of the stolen money that her husband ripped off his clients."

If Madoff's clients won't get their money back, "why should Ruth be allowed to have any money or assets that was accumulated during this period of thievery?" Ellis asked.

"No one could be that naive! Let her struggle financially," said Jean Manly of Oahu, Honolulu.

Unemployed and On the Job

While unemployed Americans hope for signs that the job market is stabilizing, recent news from the Labor Department may show otherwise.

Freelancer Vickie Elmer offers advice on how to keep your skills sharp while you're looking for a job in The Unpaid Payoff of a Between-Jobs Job (July 12).

"When you're unemployed, days can stretch long and your talents can languish unless you find something worthwhile and engaging to fill some hours -- as well as those gaps in your résumé or holes in your skillset," Elmer writes.

Here are some of her suggestions on how to make the best use of your time while unemployed:

* Fill your time. Go to trade shows, take classes, visit your local library and volunteer.

* Before committing, focus your community service on whatever you're trained in.

* Outline your goals before heading into a project headfirst. How much time can you spend on it and what are your reasons for participating?

Employers are increasingly hiring virtual assistants to reduce staff and overhead costs. In 'Virtual Assistants' in Higher Demand (July 8), Post staff writer Emma Carew describes a virtual assistant as a person who telecommutes and completes administrative tasks on a contractual basis. Maybe this is an opportunity for you.

If you're job hunting, take a look at these articles.

* Don't Let a Recruiter Paint an Artificial Picture in Your Resume (July 8) by Lily Garcia

* Speaking to Generation Nexus: Guru Explains Gens X, Y, Boomer To One Another (July 9) by Ian Shapira

Summer Savings

Here's a great idea for saving money on summer camp. Bob Webster, director of communications at North American Securities Administrators Association, told me about a group of parents in his neighborhood who have set up "Camp Budget" for a few weeks this summer.

Here is how it works: Parents of participating kids have to serve as camp host for a day. For example, "four other girls were dropped off at our house for a day of flower pot painting, hiking, lunch and hitting the community pool," Webster wrote. "The girls bring their lunch, pay for their supplies ($3 for the flower pot) and $4 to get into the pool. Our daughter can be with her friends, we can work and we will have an out of pocket expense of less than $50. And the best part is the girls seem to have a lot of fun. For working families like ours, this is great!"

I just love this summer saving idea.

Looking for cheap ways to travel this summer? Try Chi-town. Read Christina Talcott's To Chicago, on the Double and on the Cheap: Making Short Work Of a Long Weekend (July 12).

Live Q&A

If you missed yesterday's chat, read the transcript. It was a personal finance free-for-all.

Having trouble diversifying your 401(k) portfolio? Does the concept of asset allocation scare you? Stay tuned for my next online discussion, which is Thursday, July 30th with authors Jerry A. Miccolis and Dorianne R. Perrucci. Their book, "Asset Allocation for Dummies," is July's Color of Money Book Club selection and is perfect for the amateur investor. Starts at Noon ET.

For more info about the book, see my column The Ins and Outs of Asset Allocation (July 2).

Charity Brown contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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