Local Church Responds To Bernie Madoff Scandal

When it comes to $50 billion swindler Bernie Madoff's cronies in Broward County, we know about Michael Bienes and Frank Avellino. Now we can add the name Michael D. Sullivan to the list. Sullivan for years has been running a feeder fund for Madoff in his office on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdald.

Sullivan appears to have come into the picture in 1992, after the SEC shut down long-time long-time Madoff money raisers Bienes and Avellino for selling unlicensed securities. Bienes and Avellino simply steered some of the investors, who'd gotten their money back courtesy of the SEC, to Sullivan, who then put the money right back in with Madoff. After the scandal broke, Sullivan wrote a letter to all the investors in his fund telling them that their money was lost. For more about Sullivan's role, click here.

Sullivan doesn't appear to have run a particularly large fund (I've heard estimates from $60 million to $200 million, but can't vouch for their accuracy), but he was definitely a go-to guy for Bienes and Avellino. Interestingly, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation tells me he's not licensed as a securities broker or investment advisor. I can't imagine that he's doing exactly what got Bienes and Avellino busted by the SEC, but he doesn't look like the most qualified person to be running a multi-million dollar fund.

I've spoken with two Madoff victims who had family savings in Sullivan's account, both of whom lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another entity that had money in the Madoff fund was Christ Church United Methodist, which counts Michael Sullivan as a member. Avellino also reportedly used to attend the church before selling his $2 million Fort Lauderdale house in 2007 (he now has a $4.5 million in Palm Beach, along with his $10 million summer house in Nantucket and an apartment in New York). In fact, sources say Avellino met Sullivan at the church, which is how the Sullivan-Madoff fund came to be.

I wrote about the Christ Church ties on the blog Sunday (and in my column this week). I had contacted church pastor Alex Shanks on Friday for comment, but he didn't get back to me until yesterday, via email. Here's what he wrote:  

Dear Bob,

Unfortunately, my schedule on Friday did not permit me to get back to you.  Here is some information regarding your inquiry:

Church, like other United Methodist churches, seeks at all times to be responsible stewards of the gifts God gives us. 

In the last few weeks, ChristChurch, like many organizations and individuals, has become aware of an alleged investment fraud connected with Bernie Madoff. Unfortunately, the alleged fraud may have an impact on our church. 

In an effort to communicate accurate information, we share the following facts:

·                                Many years ago the church received a gift from a donor that was restricted by the donor to be invested in a fund connected with Mr. Madoff. 

·                                No other church funds or assets were ever invested in this fund.

·                                Out of respect to all our donors, we do not release the name of persons who donate money, nor the dollar amounts.

·                                The church continues to be in a strong financial condition even in this difficult economy.

We are praying for all of those affected by the actions of Bernie Madoff.  As a church and as the people of God, we remain committed to accomplishing God's vision by helping people in our community and are very grateful for all that God has entrusted to us. 


Alex Shanks

Pastor, ChristChurch

It sounds like the Madoff swindle, while taking a dent out of the church's funds, didn't do any special damage, which is good news. I wonder, though, how many other "gifts" had the Madoff strings attached?

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