It's been more than four years since Bernard Madoff's financial deception was uncovered, but it's still jarring for two local residents when they're reminded they, too, were victimized in the Ponzi scheme that stole billions of dollars from investors.
Nevertheless, they say they have learned from their ordeal and hope others don't fall prey to such predatory swindlers.
David Johnson, 65, of Sonora began with a small investment with Madoff's securities firm in 1978 and ultimately lost the majority of money meant for his retirement. He now knows he should've tried other investment opportunities instead of putting all his money into one.
"Thinking back, I wouldn't have put all of my eggs in one basket," said Johnson. "I would've diversified my investment portfolio."
Mary Layton, 57, of Riverbank invested with Madoff for more than 10 years. While she did her best to do her homework in the past, she said she now does a lot more research into any investment proposals that promise a lot in return.
"We look at everything we invest in or buy
just be a lot more realistic," said Layton. "You really need to understand. I only invest in things I understand."
Johnson and Layton are listed on an online map, identifying all of Madoff's victims. The map has been available on the Internet for a few years. One more victim in the region, a trust in Copperopolis, is listed on the map. They are among an estimated 340 victims in California.
The scheme was brought to light in December 2008. Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence and was ordered to forfeit $170.8 billion.
Investigations discovered Ma-doff and some employees created fictitious accounts, then paid out consistently high but forged returns to customers over three dec-ades.
Johnson and Layton declined to discuss specific financial figures related to their losses and the money that has been recovered.
Layton said she kept receiving statements that her investment was producing profits and even paid taxes on those proceeds. Today, she has recovered just her investment, not the profits. But Layton considers herself one of the lucky ones.
"It's a terrible feeling after investing for quite a few years and not making any money," Layton said. "The worst thing is the feeling of being cheated on such a high level."
Johnson said he felt "absolute terror" when he first learned of Madoff's scandal in news reports. He feared for his future, thinking, "Now what am I going to do?"
He said his financial loss "was enough to knock the wind out of me."
Johnson was attending Stanford University, working toward a master's degree in engineering, when a friend told him about an investment opportunity with Madoff. Johnson did as much research as he could at the time before investing.
In the next three decades, Johnson said, he never saw red flags about his investment. Whenever he needed money, he asked Madoff's firm to send him a check "and it always came through."
After working as an engineer in Silicon Valley, Johnson has been retired and living in Sonora for the past eight years. He's doing OK financially, he said, and doesn't have hard feelings toward the friend who told him about Madoff.
"He lost a substantial chunk," Johnson said. "When it collapsed, I didn't blame him."
He said he's recovered about 30 percent of his investment, and there's still a chance he could retrieve more, but he's not holding his breath.
"I've come to the conclusion that I'm unlikely to get anything more than I've already gotten back," Johnson said.
Thirteen people, including Madoff, were criminally charged in connection with the fraud. As of last week, the government has recovered more than $2.35 billion.
Reuters contributed to this report.
On the Net: Geographic lists of all victims can be found at www.madoffmap.com.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.