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Madoff trustee seeks to boost payout to over $5 billion

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Bernard Madoff's defrauded former customers will see the total amount of money returned to them surpass $5 billion if the trustee liquidating the imprisoned swindler's former firm wins court approval to distribute another $505 million.

The trustee Irving Picard plans to seek permission from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland, who oversees the liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, according to a posting Tuesday on the trustee's website. (http://link.reuters.com/nat85t)

If the judge grants approval for the third distribution, the amount of money advanced or distributed to customers would rise to $5.44 billion, close to half of the 2,499 claims totaling $11.05 billion that Picard has deemed "allowed".

Picard said he and his lawyers "are well aware of the need to return recovered funds as quickly as possible to those from whom the funds were stolen. They are constantly assessing all relevant issues to determine when it will be possible to make another pro rata interim distribution."

The trustee has estimated that Madoff's former customers lost $17.3 billion in the fraud, which surfaced in December 2008.

He is withholding some money from distribution because of litigation and other issues related to the liquidation.

Madoff, 74, pleaded guilty to running a Ponzi scheme in March 2009. He is serving a 150-year sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.

The case is In re: Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-01789.

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

((jon.stempel@thomsonreuters.com 646-223-6317)(Reuters Messaging: jon.stempel.reuters.com@thomsonreuters.net))