Safe as Houses
After Madoff, real estate looks good
A philanthropist who lost megabucks in the Bernie Madoff scam has found a more tangible investment: homes in Ann Arbor Hills. The Observer has learned that at least four houses in the affluent east-side neighborhood have been purchased by a company owned by Jeanne Levy-Church, whose late father, Norman E. Levy, was a close friend of the now- infamous financier. Levy-Church and her husband, Ken, were big-league donors. They funded a foundation that aided ex-prisoners to the tune of $30 million a year and planned to distribute another $15 million to $20 million annually in grants through their new Ann Arbor-based Fair Food Foundation. But all the foundations' funds were "invested" with Madoff, and after his Ponzi scheme collapsed last fall, the Levy-Churches announced that both would close (though the Fair Food Foundation subsequently reinvented itself as the lower-budget Fair Food Project).
After Bernie Madoff, even depreciating real estate may look like a good buy. Why the Levy-Churches chose Ann Arbor is unclear, though Ken, a former history professor in New York, is a U-M alumnus. The couple are said to be living at least occasionally in one of the homes. Ken Levy-Church declined to be interviewed, saying they have "a lot on our plate right now" and want to "keep a low profile." One source, though, says that the Levy-Churches have done a "huge amount of remodeling" in at least one of the houses. And they pleased some bemused neighbors last Christmas by bringing them big baskets of fruit.
[Originally published in May, 2009.]