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Seizing Madoff's Penthouse All in a Day's Work for Filipino American

Philippine News, News Feature, Cristina DC Pastor Posted: Aug 31, 2009

NEW YORK John Wayne and Ronald Reagan may have played town marshals in Hollywood, but in real life, a Filipino American starred in a Wall Street High Noon: the seizure of Bernie Madoffs $7 million penthouse and the media storm that came with it.

Deputy Marshal Roland Ubaldo, 31, remembered the assignment vividly the beautiful Madoff apartment and the swarm of journalists who followed him with lights, cameras, and questions, making him feel like celebrity.

While his role in the July 2 seizure of Ponzi Schemer Madoffs house from his wife, Ruth, has largely been hyped, Ubaldo clarified to Philippine News he was part of the team of five or six that took over the property.

As concurrent public affairs officer of the U.S. Marshals Southern District of New York, his role was to explain to the media what was going on. He assisted in the physical inventory of the penthouse, did not take part in changing the locks, and did not speak to Ruth Madoff at all.

I had nothing to do with talking to her, he said over iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts near City Hall. There were others the attorneys who did that.

The house was untouched when they arrived, except for a few boxes put away containing Ruths belongings. The furniture was still in place, the grand piano still a commanding presence by the living room, the suits still up and hanging.

She couldnt take anything, all was subject to seizure, he said.

As spokesman for the marshals, Ubaldos role was equally critical. He made sure he provided useful information to the media without revealing a lot of delicate details. He was factual like an accountants ledger, no emotion to his narrative: The penthouse is worth an estimated $7 million, has four bedrooms and two floors.

This Manhattan co-op is part of a cluster of properties the court had ordered seized among them a house in Montauk, Long Island, another house in West Palm Beach in Florida, three yachts and two Benzes. In all, their combined worth is at least $21 million, not counting the personal effects, such as art collection, the Steinway piano, jewelry, furniture, and designer clothes. Proceeds from the sale would go toward restitution for Madoffs victims the hundreds of thousands of individuals, companies, and nonprofits whose investments of about $65 billion he pocketed as his own. Madoff is currently behind bars, and will be for the next 150 years.

The proceeds are not enough to pay off every investor, but as Ubaldo explained, our role is to get market value for the property. The greater the proceeds, the bigger the restitution towards the victims.

By now, the inventory of the penthouse is complete. A broker would be selected following a competitive application process, and the penthouse is expected to be in the market in September.

His personal thoughts about the sad story that is Madoffs maniacal greed he would rather keep to himself.

Its beautiful, Ubaldo said of the penthouse with a wraparound terrace.

He would not characterize Ruths conduct. Was she sad, angry, annoyed, relieved? He disputed blogged accounts of Ruth pleading to keep her fur coat and the marshals standing their ground against it. She left without incident, is all he would say.

Shortly after serving Ruth the eviction notice, Ubaldo was promoted to Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal -- a new title on top of his other duties as public affairs officer/spokesman and firearms instructor. While his superiors were pleased with his handling of the Madoff-obsessed media, he said one does not get promoted on the strength of a single assignment alone.

Eight years have given him a plethora of dangerous and sometimes covert -- missions, and thats not to exaggerate. He was assigned to Iraq in 2006 to 2007 as part of a team that assisted in the trial, sentencing, and execution of dictator Saddam Hussein. Sniper fire landed less than three feet from where he and others were standing in Tikrit. That was probably his closest call.

On September 11, 2001 he was dispatched to the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to secure the air transportation system following the terrorist attacks. He was also involved in the transport and trial of Zacarias Moussaoui who was later convicted for his role in 9/11. He was deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrinas destruction. Last year he figured in the civil trial of JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, during her court appearances for the copyright infringement case. We made sure theres no problem with the public in the week she was here, he said.

Ernest Hemingways words ring true at times when Ubaldo looks back at his chosen career and becomes philosophical. There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter is one of those maxims he plays in his head.

As a marshal, one of his duties is to hunt down sex offenders, drug traffickers, murderers and other cold-blooded criminals the USM being the oldest law enforcement arm of the Department of Justice. He sees to it that the arrest leads to prosecution, and so he is in and out of court hearings, a dashing figure in crisp business suit testifying against their suspects.

Its an adrenaline rush. Theres something new every day, he mused. There is satisfaction knowing that a street, neighborhood, or a community is a little bit safer because of our actions.

Born in Queens, NY, Ubaldo comes from a conservative and extended Filipino family. Both his parents worked in New York. His father was a disciplinarian of the old school, he said bemused, while his mother made sure the family of five (Ubaldo, the oldest, has a brother and a sister) observed Sunday mass. His grandparents lived with them.

A degree in Criminal Justice paved his entry into the Marines, where he stayed for about six years, and later the USM. He left the Marines as an NCO sergeant, and joined the USM in 2001.

He couldnt imagine himself anywhere else, and doing something less-than daring.

Ubaldo would like to have a family some day, one very much like his own close-knit and supportive family. He and his Filipino girlfriend enjoy cooking as a recreational sport.

Im the better cook, he declared, and she agrees.

While marriage is in the cards, the perilous nature of his job is not the ace that holds it backs. He is not one to worry over risks.

Im an adrenaline junkie. He believes that when your number is up, its up.

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