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For ruined financiers, desperate acts

Some disappear, commit suicide

By Deborah Hastings
Associated Press / February 15, 2009
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NEW YORK - In the abyss of financial ruin, faced with sure disgrace and possibly prison, some of the newly scandalized rich have taken desperate measures in these despairing times.

The black hole of hopelessness can be overwhelming. A man who lost $1.4 billion to Bernie Madoff sits down in his Manhattan office and carefully writes a series of suicide letters to family and friends, then swallows a fatal dose of pills and conscientiously places a wastebasket under his bleeding arm, after slicing it with a box cutter.

Others are mind-boggling in their brazenness. A financier accused of stealing from his investors boards his private plane alone, sends a fake distress call over Alabama saying his windshield has shattered and he is bleeding profusely, then parachutes from the still-moving Piper Malibu, which is later found in a Florida swamp with no signs of blood or an imploded windshield.

In the last year, there have been more than 10 such incidents, from points across the country and beyond, executed by men whose finances disintegrated, sometimes into greed and possible thievery, with the same dizzying speed of the roller-coaster global market.

In January alone, three cases surfaced. German billionaire investor Adolf Merckle, who lost a fortune in shorted Volkswagen stock, threw himself under a commuter train.

Patrick Rocca, an Irish property investor who lost millions when the real estate market bottomed out, waited until his wife took their children to school before he shot himself in the head.

Outside Chicago, real estate mogul Steven L. Good was found dead in his Jaguar, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"Suicide does not discriminate on the basis of social status," said psychologist Alden Cass, who treats financial traders. "The ego of the successful person . . . is not used to failure, not used to being wrong. They're perfectionists. They don't allow for the gray in life. They don't allow for second place. When that is taken away, they're stripped of everything they know."

Three days before Christmas, after writing his farewell notes, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet killed himself in his 22d-floor office in Midtown. He'd lost his entire savings, and his clients' money, to Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme, which may have swallowed $50 billion from investments made by the very rich and the pension plans of everyday people.

The 65-year-old Frenchman, an aristocrat and professional investor, was deeply shamed and depressed, friends and family said. He felt he had ruined the lives of his clients, many of whom were friends. His brother, Bertrand, called his brother's suicide an honorable act. "At first he thought he'd be able to get the money back," Bertrand said in a Paris phone interview after his brother's death. "Gradually he realized he wouldn't be able to. He trusted Madoff completely."

The black dog of depression gnaws at these men. "They see no answers," said Cass.

Convicted hedge fund scammer Sam Israel III, 49, lasted a month on the lam in an RV complete with motor scooter before surrendering to authorities. Sentenced to 20 years in prison for defrauding investors of $450 million, Israel was supposedly driving himself to jail when he disappeared last June.

On the dusty hood of his sport utility vehicle, which he parked on an upstate New York bridge 150 feet above the Hudson River, Israel had finger-painted "suicide is painless." He didn't jump. He got into a recreational vehicle driven by his girlfriend, who later conceded that she trailed Israel on his aborted trip to prison and picked him up. He dropped her off at their home in Armonk, N.Y.

Then Israel grew a beard, and apparently rambled around a Massachusetts campground while police, who didn't buy his vehicular postscript and arrested Ryan on charges of aiding and abetting, searched for him. His mother begged him to surrender.

On July 2, he puttered up to a Massachusetts police station on his scooter and gave himself up. Returned to New York, he stood before a furious judge, who ordered his $500,000 bail forfeited. He faces up to 10 additional years in prison for running

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