NEW YORK: Bernard Madoff has been sentenced to 150 years in prison for his multibillion-dollar fraud scheme.
US District Judge Denny Chin handed down the sentence in New York on Monday.
The 71-year-old former Nasdaq chairman was arrested late last year after confessing to his sons that his secretive investment advisory business was a “big lie.”
He pleaded guilty to securities fraud and other charges in March and has been jailed since.
Earlier in court, he apologised to his family and to the victims of his fraud scheme, saying that he “will live with this pain, this torment, for the rest of my life.”
Madoff says that he dug himself “deeper into a hole” as the scheme progressed.
Attorney Ira Sorkin says the 150 years in prison recommended by prosecutors or the 50 years recommended by the federal probation department are excessive.
Victims who lost millions of dollars earlier urged a stiff sentence, describing their ruined lives to the judge.
Madoff, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a tie, sat and listened as emotional witnesses described how he spoiled their security, and they urged Judge Chin to send him to prison for life.
“Life has been a living hell. It feels like the nightmare we can’t wake from,” said Carla Hirshhorn.
“He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between. He had no values,” said Tom Fitzmaurice. “He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife Ruth could live a life of luxury beyond belief.”
Dominic Ambrosino called it an “indescribably heinous crime” and urged a long prison sentence so “will know he is imprisoned in much the same way he imprisoned us and others.”
He added: “In a sense, I would like somebody in the court today to tell me how long is my sentence.”
Chin said the Probation Department had recommended a 50-year sentence be given Madoff.
Madoff’s lawyer Sorkin has asked a judge to give his client 12 years behind bars. Prosecutors sought a 150-year prison term.
“We seek neither mercy nor sympathy,” Sorkin wrote. But the lawyer urged Chin to “set aside the emotion and hysteria attendant to this case” as he determines the sentence.
Prosecutors argued in court papers Friday that federal sentencing guidelines allow the 150-year sentence. Any lesser term, they said, should at least be the equivalent of a life sentence.
“The sheer scale of the fraud calls for severe punishment,” the prosecutors wrote.
The jailed Madoff already has taken a severe financial hit: Last week, a judge issued a preliminary US$171bil forfeiture order stripping Madoff of all his personal property, including real estate, investments, and US$80mil in assets his wife Ruth had claimed were hers. The order left her with US$2.5mil.
The terms require the Madoffs to sell a US$7mil Manhattan apartment where Ruth Madoff still lives. A US$11mil estate in Palm Beach, Florida, a US$4mil home in Montauk and a US$2.2mil boat will be put on the market as well.
Before Madoff became a symbol of Wall Street greed, he had earned a reputation as a trusted money manager with a Midas touch. Even as the market fluctuated, clients of his secretive investment advisory business -- from Florida retirees to celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, actor Kevin Bacon and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax -- for decades enjoyed steady double-digit returns.
But late last year, Madoff made a dramatic confession: Authorities say he pulled his sons aside and told them it was “all just one big lie.”
Madoff pleaded guilty in March to securities fraud and other charges, saying he was “deeply sorry and ashamed.” He insisted that he acted alone, describing a separate wholesale stock-trading firm run by his sons and brother as honest and legitimate.
Aside from an accountant accused of cooking Madoff’s books, no one else has been criminally charged. But the family, including his wife, and brokerage firms who recruited investors have come under intense scrutiny by the FBI, regulators and a court-appointed trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff’s assets.
The trustee and prosecutors have sought to go after assets to compensate thousands of burned victims who have filed claims against Madoff. How much is available to pay them remains unknown, though it’s expected to be only a fraction of the Astronomical losses associated with the fraud.
The US$171bil forfeiture figure used by prosecutors merely mirrors the amount they estimate that, over decades, “flowed into the principal account to perpetrate the Ponzi scheme.” The statements sent to investors showing their accounts were worth as much as US$65bil were fiction.
The investigation has found that in reality, Madoff never made any investments, instead using the money from new investors to pay returns to existing clients -- and to finance a lavish lifestyle for his family.
In bankruptcy filings, Trustee Irving Picard say family members “used customers accounts as though they were their own,” putting Madoff’s maid, boat captain and house-sitter in Florida on the company payroll and paying nearly US$1mil in fees at high-end golf clubs on Long Island and in Florida.
Picard has sought to reclaim ill-gotten gains by freezing Madoff’s business bank accounts and selling legitimate portions of his firm. (Its season tickets for the Mets went for US$38,100.) He’s also sued big money managers and investors for billions of dollars, claiming they were Madoff cronies who also cashed in on the fraud.
The defendants include leading philanthropists Stanley Chais and Jeffry Picower -- from whom Picard is seeking at least US$5.1bil alleged to have come out of victims’ pockets -- and hedge fund manager J. Ezra Merkin. All have denied any wrongdoing. -- AP
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