NEW YORK – A fund manager who lost more than $1 billion of his clients' money to Bernard Madoff was discovered dead Tuesday after committing suicide at his Manhattan office, marking a grim turn in a scandal that has left investors around the world in financial ruin.
Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet was found sitting at his desk at about 8 a.m. with both wrists slashed, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. A box cutter was found on the floor along with a bottle of sleeping pills on his desk. Police did not find a suicide note.
De la Villehuchet was one of several money managers and investors left reeling in the wake of Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, and his suicide demonstrates how the repercussions of this gigantic scam are intensifying by the day.
De la Villehuchet, 65, was a distinguished financier who came from a long line of aristocratic Frenchmen, and he tapped his connections in the world of European high society to attract clients to his firm, Access International Advisors. It was not immediately clear how he knew Madoff or who his clients were.
He grew increasingly subdued after the Madoff scandal broke, arousing suspicion among janitors in his Madison Avenue office tower Monday night when he demanded that they be out of there by 7 p.m. Less than 13 hours later, a security guard checked on him in his 22nd-story office suite. But de la Villehuchet was dead — a trash can placed near his body to apparently catch the blood, Browne said.
His death came as swindled investors began looking for ways to recoup their losses. Funds that lost big to Madoff are also coming up against investor lawsuits and backlash for failing to properly vet Madoff and overlooking some red flags that could have steered them away. It's not immediately known what kind of scrutiny de la Villehuchet was facing over his losses.
De la Villehuchet (pronounced veel-ou-SHAY) comes from rich French lineage, with the Magon part of his name referring to one of France's most powerful families. The Magon name is even listed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a world-famous monument that was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806.
"He's irreproachable," said Bill Rapavy, who was Access International's chief operating officer before founding his own firm in 2007.
The Frenchman's firm enlisted intermediaries with links to upper-crust Europeans to garner investors. Among them was Philippe Junot, a French businessman and friend who is the former husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Prince Michel of Yugoslavia.
De la Villehuchet, the former chairman and CEO of Credit Lyonnais Securities USA, was also known as a keen sailor who regularly participated in regattas and was a member of the New York Yacht Club.
He lived in an affluent suburb in Westchester County with his wife, Claudine. They have no children. There was no answer Tuesday at the family's two-story house. Phone calls to the home and de la Villehuchet's office went unanswered.
Guy Gurney, a British photographer living in Connecticut, was friends with de la Villehuchet. The two often sailed together and competed in a regatta in France in November.
"He was a very honorable man," Gurney said. "He was extraordinarily generous. He was an aristocrat but not a snob. He was a real person. When he was sailing, he was one of the boys."
The two were supposed to have dinner last Friday but Gurney called the day before to cancel because of the weather. But during the call, de la Villehuchet revealed he had been ensnared in the Madoff deceit.
"He sounded very subdued," Gurney said.
Gurney said de la Villehuchet was happily married to his wife.
"I can't imagine what it's like for her now," he said.