Ronnie Sue Ambrosino lost everything in the collapse of Bernie Madoff's empire. She was eager to come to New York to watch Madoff be sentenced. But reached late last week by cell phone from her home in Arizona, she wasn't sure she'd make it. She didn't know if she could raise the money for the flight.
"This is my life, it's Friday, and I don't know if I'm going to be in Manhattan on Monday," Ambrosino said. "This is the part and parcel of a day in the life of a Madoff victim."
Ambrosino and her husband, Dominic, are among more than 100 Madoff victims who wrote letters to U.S. District Judge Denny Chin about the sentencing. She told the judge they didn't just lose money — they lost a life. The life they thought they'd lead when they retired. She says she knows a harsh sentence won't bring her life back.
"If justice is done, that's all I want," Ambrosino said.
A lot of other Madoff victims are certain to show up at a hearing that may feel somewhat anticlimactic. Madoff already has been in jail since pleading guilty in March. His attorney has asked the judge to give his client a sentence of just 12 years. Some expect Madoff, 71, to address the courtroom to make his case for a lighter sentence.
"It is entirely likely that this will be a very formal proceeding where Madoff speaks and conveys the depth of his sorrow and shame at what he did," said Dan Richman, a former federal prosecutor.
Richman says considering how many people were affected by Madoff's meltdown, the judge is unlikely to agree to a light sentence. Prosecutors are asking for life, but Richman doesn't want to predict what kind of sentence Madoff will get. He says there are federal sentencing guidelines but they're used in an advisory way.
"The fact is anything over a 20-year sentence can easily amount to him spending the rest of his life in jail," Richman said. "People can have views about whether it should be 100 or life or 2,000 but I'm not sure it makes that much of a difference."
Saphira Linden, who runs the Omega Theater in Boston, agrees. Her life savings were wiped out in the Madoff collapse as well as the theater's entire endowment.
"I could care less frankly," Linden said. "I just don't think that's the point, how many years and how much revenge we can get with this man."
Linden talks to a lot of Madoff victims regularly, and most of them have other things on their minds these days. Many have been left without any savings.
"Everybody that I know, the main feeling is the sentencing almost doesn't mater," Linden said. "What matters is what the government does to help us get our money back, or some of it."
The Madoff sentencing also raises another question. Federal officials have filed civil charges against some of the funds that funneled money into Madoff's firm. But other than Madoff, the only person to face criminal charges in the case so far has been his accountant.
Many investors remain deeply skeptical that Madoff could have pulled off such a huge crime without more help. And they're waiting to find out whether prosecutors plan to go after anyone else.