Andrew Madoff's Real Estate Trouble

Andrew Madoff
Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer; Source photo: Peter Kramer / NBC-Getty Images

The miserable Madoff clan has faced a lot of foes in the years since Bernie's Ponzi scheme went bust: courts, creditors, a wrathful nation. But nothing prepared them for the most fearsome of all: Manhattan co-op boards.

The latest crucible comes from luxury- apartment buildings, which refuse to rent to Andrew Madoff and his wife, Catherine Hooper, according to the New York Post. The couple is willing to spend up to $20,000 a month on a pad downtown and has been trying to visit apartments under Hooper's name, but no one is fooled.

This is frontier justice, Manhattan style. We don't have public beheadings these days, but sometimes the citizenry demands blood. And when they do, they can count on the mysterious cabals that control access to New York's finest homes. Whatever punishment the court system metes out is tame compared to the city's merciless co-op boards.

"Manhattan co-op boards are like the Kremlin in the old days," says author Michael Gross, who wrote a book about tony apartment building 740 Park and is at work on another about 15 Central Park West, home to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and former Citigroup executive Sandy Weill. The boards are legally prohibited from discriminating on all the usual counts—race, gender, sexual orientation—but they are free to reject applicants for sins our criminal-justice system has a harder time punishing: poor character, a tacky lifestyle, infamy by association.

After his impeachment, Richard Nixon suffered the further indignity of being rejected by the board of the River House, which allowed Henry Kissinger to buy an apartment but drew the line at his boss. So desperate were members of the board of 740 Park to keep out Russian businessman Leonard Blavatnik in 2004 that they sent a back-channel message to conservative billionaire David Koch, suggesting that if he applied for the unit as well, fortune might smile on the controversial Koch family. "It's nice to be wanted," Koch told Gross. "That hasn't always been the case in my life."

The "Hoopers" can take heart in this legacy. It may be tough now, as it was for the prime minister of Qatar last week when a co-op board rejected his $31.5 million bid to buy late heiress Huguette Clark's old apartment. But the lesson of history is that real-estate justice is relative. Eventually, someone worse will come along, and Madoff and his wife will discover plenty of neighbors with outstretched arms.