Madoff Sentenced For Multi-Billion-Dollar Fraud

Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for a multi-billion dollar scheme to defraud investors. Before sentencing, a federal judge in New York City heard from some of the people Madoff bilked.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

NPR's business news starts with the sentencing of Bernard Madoff.

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MONTAGNE: The man who orchestrated the biggest Ponzi scheme in American history has been sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum sentence possible. He was in a New York courtroom as a judge handed down the sentence. NPR's Mike Pesca was there, and he joins us now. Good morning.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

MONTAGNE: That's a sentence that means he'll be in prison for life. What was the judge's reasoning?

PESCA: The judge laid out three reasons how he came to the sentence of the maximum, 150 years. He said when we sentence criminals, we seek retribution, deterrence and the importance for the victim. He described what Bernard Madoff did as crimes that were extraordinarily evil, and just simply rejected every one of the arguments put forth by Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin. Sorkin had asked for 12 years, which would have meant that Madoff would have been out of prison, perhaps, during his natural life, as he's 71 years now. But Denny Chin, the judge, dismissed those arguments, said that Madoff was not cooperative, that it was important to sentence Madoff to the maximum allowable.

MONTAGNE: Now, Mike, they - there were victims there in the courtroom. I want you to talk us about that. But I see here that they cheered and applauded when the sentence was announced.

PESCA: Yes, because the numbers were going back and forth. The emotional impact of nine victims who were allowed to speak was overwhelming. Each individual case was interesting, in a horrible way, to listen to. And then when you add all nine of them up, it was simply overwhelming. But it was still unsure if he would get the 150 years. And as one of the victims said, that won't even - this victim who was speaking was a former corrections officer, and he said: As a guy who lived on the right side of the bars, it probably won't give me satisfaction. But they were all asking for the maximum. And I can give you a couple other quotes by victims. Maureen Ebel said - who is a 61-year-old widow - said: "My husband would wake up in the middle of the night to save someone's life so Bernie Madoff could buy his wife another Cartier watch."

There are so many quotes, but I'll give you another one. Michael Schwartz wanted everyone to know - he's 33. He's healthy. But his twin brother is mentally disabled. And what Bernard Madoff stole from him was the ability to live in a good group home. Nine people spoke. The judge quoted other stories. And you really got a human sense of what Bernard Madoff did.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Well, we'll we're going to get through a bit - lot, actually, in the next couple of minutes. Bernard Madoff spoke in court. What did he say for himself?

PESCA: Bernard Madoff stood up, cleared his throat a few times, struggled to come up with words. He - the layout of the court was such that when the victim spoke, they were directly behind him and facing the judge, and Madoff was about 10 feet ahead. So when he spoke, he faced the judge. But the very last thing he said was to turn around and face the victims and said, I feel terrible. I will turn to you and say that I am sorry. I know that doesn't help. He apologized on behalf of his wife. He didn't really get into very many solid details of what he did with the money. He just said he essentially thought that he'd be able to return people's investments, and it became apparent that he didn't. He says that he knows all the pain and suffering he's caused. He is tormented. He didn't speak nearly as long as any of the victims did.

MONTAGNE: You know, outside the court, what is next for the victims by way of trying to recover that money?

PESCA: Well, you know, this is a big question, and it's something that the judge very clearly did not want to deal with in the court. One of the victims started criticizing the SEC as allowing the scam to perpetuate, and the judge interrupted and said now is not the time for that. But there is a government entity that's trying to collect money. There are many different estimates about how much money he stole. The conservative estimate cited in court was 13 billion. The judge said it could be as high as 60 billion. And as of now, a few billion has been recovered.

MONTAGNE: So just finally, did people look relieved, his victims, at the end? After the cheering?

PESCA: I don't think so. I think because this wasn't the case where anyone said the word closure - you know, people talked about - one woman talked about that she has to live on food stamps and scavenge through dumpsters. Another couple talked about how they had a motor home, and that was their vacation. Now it's their permanent home. So none of that changes. So, the victims…

MONTAGNE: Right.

PESCA: …wanted 150 years and they got it, but I don't know if it makes any of them feel better, and it doesn't improve their financial conditions.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Pesca, on today's sentencing of financier Bernard Madoff. A federal judge has sentenced him to 150 years in prison.

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