Frank Avellino and Michael Bienes: What Happened to the Accountants?

With Netflix’s ‘Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street’ charting the largest Ponzi scheme in history, all the alleged parties involved, alongside mastermind Bernie Madoff are now back in the limelight. Among them are, of course, none other than accountants Frank Avellino and Michael Bienes, who’ve been accused of serving as two of the earliest enablers of the former’s entire criminal practice. So now, if you wish to learn more about them — in particular, their backgrounds, their supposed hand in the matter, as well as their current standing — we’ve got the necessary details for you.

Who Are Frank Avellino and Michael Bienes?

It was reportedly back in 1958 that Bronx native Frank kickstarted his professional career by joining the Alpern & Heller accounting firm directly after graduating from The City College of New York. On the other hand, despite the fact Long Beach native Michael had also completed his higher studies at New York University the same year, he didn’t step into this company well until the 1960s. Instead, he dabbled in a few mid-size businesses within the same field in Manhattan before entering Internal Revenue Service, eventually driving him to pursue his ambition of becoming a partner.

Frank Avellino (left) and Michael Bienes (right)

Alpern & Heller’s tax partner Sherman Heller had suddenly passed away from a heart attack around this time, meaning accountant Saul Alpern — Bernie’s father-in-law — essentially had no help. He thus promoted one of his most trustworthy employees, Frank, to be by his side in 1970, and when he retired for good within the next few years, Michael was given the opportunity to rise as well. The small yet thriving establishment became Avellino & Bienes, or as they referred to themselves, Apples & Bananas, A&B — after all, they were “a match made somewhere outside of heaven.”

“I took one look at Frank, and believe it or not, I fell in love, as only one man could fall for another,” Michael once expressed. “I said, ‘This is the guy I want to be with.’ It was not a good deal. I gave up a lot of fringe benefits. I put in a lot more hours. But Frank and I bonded together; we bonded very quickly. We were partners before we were partners.” Therefore, when their careers did evolve, they quickly got into the groove of the former handling most of the tax work, with the latter doing the accounting, all the while vehemently continuing the work/reserves they’d inherited from Saul.

In simple words, Frank and Michael continued to have friends, family, acquaintances, and trusted institutions “invest” in Bernie’s secret fund-managing business to receive massive interest. As per the Netflix original, this duo “took money from clients and they put it with a secret manager whose name couldn’t be revealed, without even [disclosing] what was happening to the money.” However, no one really raised any concerns at first since the returns were indicated to be between 15-18%, with the A&B organization earning a pretty high fee for the amounts they presented.

Frank and Michael were actually running this operation under the radar by not putting anything in writing, according to the docuseries, just for SEC to catch wind as soon as a subcontractor did. That’s because they were advertising “100% riskless” trading — frankly impossible in the finance world — which led to the revelation they’d raised $444 million for Bernie to invest by 1992. Nevertheless, as Bernie was already a big name, the SEC simply ordered Avellino & Bienes to be shut down owing to its illegal structural working, and the money was returned to clients soon after.

Frank Avellino is Still Facing the Lawsuit Today, While Michael Bienes Died in 2017

The truth is Bernie’s Ponzi scheme worked such magic that essentially every client reinvested directly with him once A&B closed its door, only for Frank and Michael to follow suit as well. This means the accountants evolved into securities investors by reportedly handing the former a majority of their life savings, just to lose it all when the truth came to light in late 2008. By this point, they’d both relocated to Florida for good, with Frank owning a home in Palm Beach alongside his wife Nancy Avellino and Michael settling down in Fort Lauderdale with his life partner Dianne Bienes.

Michael and Dianne Bienes//Image Credit: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

As for their current whereabouts, Frank is in his mid-80s and still resides in Palm Beach, Florida, from where he continues to face the lawsuit filed against him, Michael, and their family members. The plaintiff, in this case, is the Trustee for Liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, who’s hoping to recover the fictitious profits they’d earned and redirect the same to Bernie’s victims. Though Frank himself has purportedly filed for claims as a part of the latter category (as a victim) as well as for bankruptcy, making things quite complicated.

Coming to Michael, he and his wife had established themselves as philanthropists based in Fort Lauderdale by donating millions to charities by 2008, only for the fraud to shatter their lives apart. After all, his admittedly assumed net worth of over $70 million went up in the air in the blink of an eye, and then he was facing a suit accusing him of running a feeder fund alongside his partner Frank. He, unfortunately, passed away from cancer at the age of 80 on April 5, 2017, before the matter could be properly resolved in a court of law.

Read More: Annette Bongiorno: Where is Bernie Madoff’s Portfolio Manager Now?