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Blowtorch Not Recommended For Snow Removal

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Blowtorch Not Recommended For Snow Removal

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Blowtorch Not Recommended For Snow Removal

Blowtorch Not Recommended For Snow Removal

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One man's attempt to speed up snow removal on his back porch seriously backfired. The Massachusetts homeowner hooked up a blowtorch to a 20-pound propane tank and took aim at the ice and snow. In a hot minute, the fire spread to the home's second and third floors, causing $30,000 in damage. The Standard-Times of New Bedford reported that it took 25 firefighters to put out the flames. No one was injured.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. A man whose investment fund lost over a billion dollars in Bernard Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme has apparently killed himself in his office, say New York City police. His company operated one of the many funds that channeled money to Madoff's firm and lost big. Still, there are those who made money doing business with Madoff. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli with the story.

JIM ZARROLI: When the city of Madison, Wisconsin wanted to build a new performing arts center, it set up a trust fund that was supposed to pay operating and construction costs. The fund had more than a $100 million, and spokesman Robert Chapel says, the funds trustees began looking around for places to invest the money. Chapel says they ended up putting about $18 million into a hedge fund run by the company Fairfield Greenwich.

ROBERT CHAPEL: We turned to seasoned professionals for advice, and, you know, asked them how can we get the best return on our investment, and that's the advice that was given to us.

ZARROLI: Over time, the $18 million grew as high as $27 million. Then in September, with the Arts Center built, the fund was disbanded. The trustees cashed in their investment in Fairfield Greenwich, and used the money to pay off their bondholders. Chapel says at the time, Fairfield Greenwich was still seen as a good investment.

CHAPEL: Lots of groups, non-profits, corporate entities, very sophisticated and experienced investment professionals, were still confident in Fairfield's securities at that time.

ZARROLI: The truth was that Fairfield Greenwich operated what's called a feeder fund for disgraced money manager Bernie Madoff. People who invested in the fund were really investing in Madoff, and now that his company has collapsed, they have lost almost everything.

By getting out in September, Madison officials believe they have dodged a bullet. The story illustrates one of the reasons why it's been so hard to figure out how much money was lost in the Madoff scandal. While Madoff was raking in money from some investors, he was also paying out money in interest and redemptions to others.

Bob Chew had money in a family investment fund run by a California money manager, who in turn invested with Madoff. Chew says he and many relatives lost a lot of money, but not everyone.

BOB CHEW: For example, my mother-in-law had roughly $300,000 in there for about 20 years. So, she was able to live on that interest for 20 years. So she probably made $800,000 for her $300,000.

ZARROLI: It's now up to federal investigators to figure out who lost money with Madoff, and how much. The question is a critical one. In coming years, there's expected to be a raft of lawsuits from investors against Madoff, the hedge funds that did business with him, and the auditors. Attorney Jeff Zwerling, who represents some of Madoff's victims, says plaintiffs could have trouble recovering money.

JEFF ZWERLING: It does not appear that anyone who's a direct investor in Madoff Securities will get any significant percentage of their investment returned to them, if at all.

ZARROLI: But Zwerling says some plaintiffs could go after other targets in an effort to recover part of the money Madoff paid out over the years. For instance, they could pursue the feeder funds that funneled money to Madoff. Many are now basically insolvent, but others are not.

Zwerling says many of these funds collected hefty fees from Madoff over the years for steering business Madoff's way. Others, who made money off Madoff, are wondering whether they could also be targeted. Robert Chapel, spokesman for the Performing Arts Center in Madison, says that the trust fund that invested with Madoff is now disbanded. So it's unlikely the city could be forced to return the money it made.

CHAPEL: We don't anticipate that happening, simply because if anybody wanted to come after someone for the money that we got out of Fairfield, they'd come after the trust fund, which is empty.

ZARROLI: But no one really knows for sure, and the issue is likely to be thrashed out in court for years. And a lot of angry plaintiffs will be turning over every stone they can find to recover what they lost. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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