Bernard Madoff’s victims will soon receive $2.48 billion to help cover their losses, by far the largest payout since the swindler’s massive fraud was uncovered nearly four years ago.

Checks ranging from $1,784 to $526.9 million were mailed Wednesday to 1,230 former customers of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, according to Irving Picard, the trustee liquidating the firm.

The latest payout more than triples the total recovery to $3.63 billion, Picard said Thursday. Thus 1,074 customers with valid claims, or 44 percent of the total number, will be fully repaid, he added.

Customers had previously recovered $1.15 billion, including sums committed by the Securities Investor Protection Corp., which helps customers of failed brokerages. The average payout in Wednesday’s distribution was $2.02 million.

According to a Sept. 13 report by the Government Accountability Office, the largest valid customer claims are $1.57 billion by Optimal Multiadvisors, part of Spain’s Banco Santander, and $741 million by M-Invest, a “feeder” fund created by Switzerland’s Union Bancaire Privee.

It is not immediately clear who received the largest payout. A spokeswoman for Picard was not available for comment. Representatives for Santander and Union Bancaire Privee were also not available.

Madoff, now 74, was arrested in December 2008 and pleaded guilty three months later to running a giant Ponzi scheme. He is serving a 150-year sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland in Manhattan authorized the latest distribution last month after Picard won two legal victories.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower-court decision that endorsed Picard’s methods for calculating losses.

In July, a former Madoff customer dropped a court challenge to a $7.2 billion forfeiture by the estate of Madoff investor Jeffry Picower. Of that sum, $5 billion would go to the Madoff firm’s estate, and the rest to the U.S. government.

Picard has recovered $9.15 billion, or 53 percent of the $17.3 billion he believes was lost in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

The trustee is holding some funds in reserve as some Madoff victims pursue their own cases to recover more money.

The market for trading claims on potential recoveries from Madoff’s estate will adjust for the distribution, according to Joseph Sarachek, managing director of claims trading at CRT Capital Group, a Stamford, Conn.-based broker-dealer.

He said claims that recently traded at about 69 cents on the dollar will probably soon trade in the 30s. “The Madoff market is fairly volatile,” Sarachek said. “The real question is when people think the next distribution will be.”

— Reuters