What's Next For Madoff? Life In Prison

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New York financer Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to 11 counts including fraud, perjury and international money laundering. What comes next for the disgraced money manager?


From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. Just ahead, how a former Lehman Brothers exec stays hopeful even after a year of unemployment. That's coming up.

BRAND: First, though, Bernard Madoff has pleaded guilty today to charges that he ran a giant Ponzi scheme that bilked investors around the world out of billions of dollars. He faces a maximum of 150 years in prison when he's sentenced in June. NPR's Robert Smith is outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan and Robert, tell us more about what went down in the courtroom today.

ROBERT SMITH: We knew that he was expected to plead guilty and indeed, he stood in front of the judge and he said, I plead guilty to all 11 counts against him, that included of course money laundering, perjury and several counts of fraud. And then more interestingly, Bernard Madoff talked a little bit about what had happened. And that was the most interesting part. He said that he began his Ponzi scheme in the early 1990s because of a recession then. And he said he started it and he believed it would be short and they could eventually extricate himself from the fraud. And then, this is a quote, he said, "as the years went by, I realized my risk and that this day would inevitably come. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for my crimes."

BRAND: And so he sounds like he's really sorry. He sounds like he's regretting the whole thing. What was his demeanor like?

SMITH: His voice was sort of weak and the judge had to ask him to speak up. Hard to tell but I'm sure it was an immensely emotional experience for him. And he said several times that he was extremely, extremely sorry.

BRAND: So, he said that this began in the early 1990s, so for nearly 20 years that he was basically sending these false statements to these investors saying they were invested in this stock and that stock and carrying on this massive multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme, is it conceivable that he did this all by himself?

SMITH: Well, that is the really big question here and that's what all the people I talk to, the lawyers that have come to watch this, that the victims who came to watch this guilty plea, that's their question. Most people I talk to say there is no way he could have done it alone. Now, specifically, I'll say, in the indictment against him prosecutors named no other names, they do not charge them with conspiracy, which you have to do if he was working with somebody else, and they say he hired low-level employees who didn't understand finance. So as of right now, we don't know who else may have helped him, but we do know his brother was part of the business. His wife was an early bookkeeper for him. His two sons were part of the business, and there are certainly going to be questions and further investigations in terms of how much impact they had on this crime.

BRAND: As you say, many of his victims were inside the courtroom watching. What did they want today?

SMITH: The ones that I've talked to did not say that they were - wanted a huge long jail sentence for him. You know, the total amount of crimes could total 150 years. They are not as much as interested in that as they are finding this money. They want their money back. They certainly want him to spend the rest of his life in jail, but they're far more interested in making him hurt where it really counts, which I guess is his wallet.

BRAND: Right. Well, and is there any hope then that there actually is money squirreled away somewhere that these investigators could get back?

SMITH: As of right now, the magistrate has located about a billion dollars. Now remember, at the time that they arrested Madoff, he had claimed investments of $65 billion on behalf of his clients. So, a billion is a tiny fraction of this. There may be more money out there, but remember, a lot of this money went back to investors that pulled out five years ago, 10 years ago. That's the point of a Ponzi scheme. You have to keep paying the money out. Some of the money went to the IRS to pay taxes. Certainly some of the money went to his lavish lifestyle. The question now is how much is left over and is it in any form that they can get to.

BRAND: NPR's Robert Smith outside the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan where Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty today to all the charges against him, that he ran a giant Ponzi scheme bilking investors out of billions of dollars. He'll be sentenced in June, and the judge has said that he will be jailed until his sentencing. At 70 years old, Bernard Madoff will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. Robert, thank you.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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