Thursday, January 1, 2009

Billionaire "Equine Advocate" Goes Broke in Madoff Scam; Gets Himself Sued

Billionaire Investor and Boardmember of "Equine Advocates," and owner of Stonebridge Farm, -- out $7.5B in Madoff investments

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
First published in print: Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SARATOGA — A hedge fund investor who poured millions into Saratoga's equine economy has abruptly stopped all new construction on his huge horse farm and wants to sell his thoroughbreds after losing some $7.5 billion in the Bernard Madoff scandal.

Jeffrey Tucker, the founding partner of Fairfield Greenwich Group, bought Stonebridge Farm in Schuylerville in 2004, and has since built New York's first track with a synthetic racing surface and indoor arena on the 188-acre farm. Tucker, 62, owns and cares for about 50 thoroughbreds on the site, considered one of horse racing's premier training facilities, and recently purchased a 230-acre satellite farm in Gansevoort.

But two weeks ago, his Connecticut-based investment firm said it had lost $7.5 billion — apparently more than anyone — in the Madoff scandal, which is being called the biggest Wall Street scam ever perpetrated.

Authorities allege Madoff, a former Nasdaq stock market chairman, created a classic Ponzi scheme with investors' money in which he defrauded clients out of potentially $50 billion. About a dozen international customers of Fairfield Greenwich are preparing legal action against the company and its founders — Tucker, Walter Noel and Andres Piedrahita — claiming they failed to watch after their investments after "feeding" them to Madoff.

The losses have caused all construction on Tucker's vast farm to grind to a halt, and the properties' manager says Tucker will soon sell his horses. "It's going to be tough financial times," manager Dennis Brida said in an interview this week.

He said that rumors about the farm closing and laying off its 50 employees are false. But Tucker plans to carefully evaluate the farm and make necessary changes, Brida said, including unloading his 20 to 25 horses, some of which ran at Saratoga Race Course, in the coming months.

Tucker, a Manhattan resident, has worked in the finance industry for most of his life. He likes to spend weekends in a home he built on Stonebridge Farm because he loves horses, those who know him say.

Tucker serves on the board of Equine Advocates of Chatham ( and has hosted multiple celebrity galas on his farm to raise money for the charity. He is chairman of Empire Racing Associates (

"He's the nicest man walking God's green Earth," said developer Sonny Bonacio, who helped build Stonebridge, but recently was asked to cease work on a barn.

"He asked us to hit the brakes until he figures out what his long-term plan is," Bonacio said. "It's such a shame what happened."

Tucker did not respond to a request for an interview. In a Dec. 16 letter to investors, Fairfield Greenwich Group reported that it had invested approximately $7.5 billion of its $14.1 billion in assets with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.

"We are seeking to gather all facts, work diligently with counsel to determine the appropriate course of action toward recovery, and stand ready to assist the authorities with their investigation," the company statement said.

It was Tucker who introduced the firm to Madoff in 1989, according to The Wall Street Journal. The fund that Fairfield Greenwich set up through Madoff had lost money in only 13 months over 15 years, the newspaper reported.

Fairfield Greenwich made money by charging its clients a 1.5 percent management fee plus 20 percent of the fund's profit, said Jacob Zamansky, a New York City attorney who represents clients who he says lost more than $50 million with Fairfield Greenwich. A lawsuit against the company would be filed in a few weeks, he said.

"Many people were unaware that Fairfield was invested in Madoff, and they assumed based on documents presented to them that it was doing proper diligence," Zamansky said. "Clearly, they didn't live up to their responsibilities."

If investors' money was used to buy Tucker's horse farms and a court decides against Fairfield Greenwich and Tucker in the case, the farms could be sold to satisfy the judgments, Zamansky said.

Such a development would be a blow to the area economy, said Bill Peck, supervisor of Northumberland, where Tucker's Gansevoort farm is located.

Everything at Stonebridge is "top shelf," Peck said, and Tucker tried to buy and hire local.

If Tucker cannot sustain the farm as is, there's hope at least one of the properties could be remade into a commercial operation.

"It's in a great location in a really great racing community," Brida said. "It will still thrive."

Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at

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