Russian violinist, millionaire, victim in Madoff scam

WASHINGTON — The list of bilked investors of disgraced New York financier Bernard Madoff includes Hollywood royalty, the super-wealthy, foundations and now, it turns out, a Fort Worth man with a remarkable life story.

In the late 1970’s, Mikhail Barash was a violin virtuoso who wanted to leave Russia. By 1979, with the help of a Fort Worth sponsor, Barash was allowed to leave Russia – but without his violin.

The American Dream seemed realized: Barash started performing with the Fort Worth Symphony, his beautiful wife Alla taught piano and his son was growing up in Texas.

Fort Worth businessman and music lover Leon Brachman invited the family to live at his home for their first few months in town and Brachman even loaned Barash his own violin.

A short time afterward, the Russian emigre was thrown a curve ball – he was in a car accident that hurt his hand and left him unable to play.

But with tenacity and an immigrant’s spirit, Barash started a series of businesses. In 2005, a major Russian telecommunications provider bought one of his companies -- Barash Communications Technologies, Inc., which had cellular rights in Turkmenistan -- for over $46 million.

"I understand he had an export business out of Russia and made a fortune," said Brachman, who has kept up with Barash. "He seems to be doing real well."

"He was a very entrepreneurial kind of fellow."

Barash and his family (a daughter was born in Texas) have a home in Mira Vista as well as a winter place on Miami's Fisher Island.

But Barash was also, intrinsically, musical. So he began the rehabilitation process and, after 20 years, began playing the violin again – for the first time since the accident, he played the violin as a gift for his wife's birthday.

And the days of borrowing instruments are over; success brought him the violist's ultimate dream: a Stradivarius.

Barash has returned to performing, usually in benefit concerts, and has recorded two cd's. He is on the board of trustees of Texas Wesleyan University and in 2007 performed at a benefit for the university’s music department.

"He is making a graduated comeback," John Fisher, chairman of the music department at Texas Wesleyan, said in a press release at the time. "He loves to play. He is outstanding. He has a fabulous instrument and a great command of it. He is a real force."

Barash, 54, is circumspect about his success. "I've been lucky in my life," said the soft-spoken Barash in a brief telephone interview from his Miami "winter home."

But on the subject of Madoff, Barash is mum. "I really have no comment about it," he said, declining to disclose the amount of the loss.

Barash's investment, listed under MAB, Ltd., is a family partnership, and can be found among the thousands of investors on the 162 page client list released by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. Madoff was arrested in December for defrauding investors of $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme that lasted for years.

"I never met him," said Barash. "I spoke with him. Some friends recommended him." The Texas-Russian musician said he invested with Madoff in 2007. "So I have been with him a very short time," he said. As for the amount, however, "it's nobody's business."

Brachman, told of the Madoff connection, said "That's a shame." But Brachman, having seen Barash's ability to overcome adversity, was optimistic about the emigre's outlook – even without knowing any details. "He has the capability to earn money," he said, unlike someone who invested – and lost -- their entire inheritance. "So this can be temporary," Brachman said, "a temporary disaster."