NEW YORK - The last time Morton Chalek visited Bernard Madoff's office, the then-trusted investment adviser gave him the customary warm welcome.
"Hey, Mort, come on over," Chalek recalled Madoff saying before giving him more good news about his portfolio.
The World War II veteran saw no risk investing with the affable Madoff. But two months after that last meeting, on Dec. 11, 2008, the headlines told him he'd been had.
With the fifth anniversary of the exposure of Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme approaching, Chalek lives with a disdain for Madoff that gnaws at him daily. He's among a legion of former investors still struggling to move on after seeing their life savings go up in flames.
"It's frustrating as hell, believe me," the 90-year-old great-grandfather and native New Yorker said in a recent interview at his Manhattan apartment.
The man Chalek sarcastically refers to as "good old Bernie" revealed to the FBI that his firm was a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions. Account statements for thousands of clients showing $60 billion in assets - Chalek's account stood at $2.3 million - were fiction.
Of the roughly $17.5 billion in principal that was real, most was gone. Authorities say it was paid out as fake profits or raided by Madoff's family and cronies.
A court-appointed trustee has so far recovered more than $9.5 billion to redistribute to burned clients through an ongoing claims process. Victims who invested through third-party "feeder funds" recently became eligible to make claims for an additional $2.35 billion collected through forfeitures, including funds from Madoff's wife, Ruth.
The victims have watched Madoff get a 150-year prison term in Butner, N.C., his brother and business partner, Peter, sent away for 10 years, and five former employees go on trial on charges they were in on the scheme. The trial, which began in October, resumes Monday.
Despite the recovery effort and criminal prosecutions, some five-year-old wounds haven't healed.
Since the fraud was exposed, Chalek says he hasn't been repaid one penny. The trustee has deemed him a "net winner" - meaning he and his family took out more from their Madoff account than was put in - a determination he's disputing in bankruptcy court.
Chalek now gets by on Social Security, veterans' benefits, and the companionship of retired educator Fran Reiss, a friend who moved in with him after his wife died about a decade ago.
Reiss, 79, also lost her savings in the Madoff scheme but has tried to keep a sense of humor about it. She recounted how in the aftermath of Madoff's arrest, she and a friend spotted Madoff's wife - by then, recognizable from a wave of news stories - walking on a Manhattan street in an expensive-looking leather jacket.
"That's some coat," the friend said.
"I know," Reiss responded. "I'm the one who bought it for her."