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New York City (AFP) – Thousands of investors in Bernie Madoff’s multi-billion-dollar fraud could be eligible for compensation for the first time, U.S. prosecutors in New York announced on Monday.

A statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in New York said $2.35 billion had so far been gathered in a fund to help victims of the financier’s crimes.

At the time of its collapse in 2008, Madoff Securities boasted it had about $65 billion in client assets, whereas in fact it had only about $300 million.

The savings of many investors, foundations and families were wiped out in the collapse.

“This was an epic fraud and the process of compensating victims has been complex, but significant steps have been taken, and the government is continuing its investigation to ensure that assets are recovered for the benefit of Madoff’s victims,” U.S. attorney for New York Preet Bharara said in a statement.

The Madoff Victim Fund also announced new eligibility criteria for individuals making claims.

For the first time, victims of Madoff Securities fraud who invested through “feeder funds” and pooled investment vehicles would also be able to seek redress as well as direct investors.

“The process we have put in place opens the door for thousands of defrauded victims who otherwise might never have recovered anything,” Bharara said.

“We have made eligibility to recover far more inclusive, and more equitable, than ever before.”

The newly unveiled eligibility criteria means more than 10,000 investors whose claims were rejected in the Madoff Securities bankruptcy as “indirect” may now be able to receive compensation.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.