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By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than 100 items belonging to notorious swindler Bernard Madoff and his wife were auctioned off on Saturday to help repay his victims, with many fetching far more than their estimated value set by the U.S. government.
Jewellery dealers, souvenir hunters and collectors swooped down on everything from wife Ruth's furs and diamond-encrusted bracelets to Bernie's old New York Mets baseball jacket and fishing tackle box at a midtown Manhattan hotel.
Someone bought a pair of otherwise ordinary Igloo brand coolers for $250 (150 pounds), while another paid $2,200 for a Mont Blanc wallet with the monogram of "BM." The government's estimate was $70 to $100.
The Mets jacket went for a cool $14,500 -- presumably prized for its "Madoff" and "MADF" lettering.
Madoff, who bilked investors for decades of as much as $65 billion in a Ponzi scheme, was sentenced to 150 years in prison in June.
"It was just horrific, what he did," said a woman from Edison, New Jersey, who asked that her name not be used.
"But I did think I might find a nice piece of jewellery for a decent price, while helping out in a way by contributing to the victims getting repaid," she said, referring to the sale's beneficiaries through the Department of Justice.
Lester Miller, a 77-year-old businessman from St. Louis, bought a bracelet adorned with 15 charms, including a lantern, lobster, shell, lighthouse, anchor and boat.
He paid $3,500 for it, far more than the estimated value, then spent $100,000 on other Madoff property. He said the money would help the victims, some of whom are his friends in Palm Beach, Florida.
Buyers, many of whom appeared to be jewellery dealers or traders and other professionals, drove prices up to levels that drew applause from the crowd.
Ruth's jewellery seemed especially appealing, with a pair of Victorian dangle diamond earrings fetching $70,000, far more than their expected price of $14,000 to $21,000.
One of Madoff's dozens of Rolex watches went for a mere $32,500 -- the Oyster chronograph has been estimated to sell for more than $60,000.
An aptly dubbed Rolex "Prisoner Watch," sold for $65,000, well under the expected $75,000 to $87,500. An appraiser said at the sale preview that it might have been listed for $100,000 to $150,000 in a different setting.
But Madoff's duck decoys, which had started with bids at $53, soared above $3,000 each, with one going for $4,750.
China, stemware and flatware, Ruth's Hermes and Prada bags, the couple's boogie boards and even the poor dog's bowls -- it all went.
A collection of yachts and other vessels seized from Madoff and a top aide, Frank DiPascali, will be sold at an auction on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. More of Madoff's ill-gotten gains will be offered at other sales, according to the U.S. Marshals Service's Asset Forfeiture Division.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)