Judge Setences Madoff To 150 Years

Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced Monday to 150 years for his monumental Ponzi scheme. The judge called Madoff's deeds "extraordinarily evil," and said he needed to send a symbolic message to those who might try to perpetuate a comparable fraud.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

Extraordinarily evil - that was the judge's description today of the acts of Bernard Madoff. Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his monumental fraud. Applause broke out in the New York courtroom when the judge handed down the maximum sentence. The convicted swindler stood before the judge and his victims and said, I live in a tormented state knowing the pain and suffering I've created.

As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, that pain and suffering was evident in the court today.

MIKE PESCA: Thirteen billion dollars - that is the most conservative estimate of the amount of money Bernard Madoff stole. If the mind can scarcely comprehend a figure so large, the federal sentencing guidelines don't even try. Judges are advised to give the toughest sentences to those who have stolen up to $400 million. As Judge Denny Chin noted, the Madoff take is quite literally off the charts. But the most forceful number in federal court this morning was nine. That was the number of victims allowed to speak.

First came Dominic Ambrosino, a former corrections officer, a guy who used to be on the right side of the prison bars, as he said. Mr. Ambrosino's motor home is no longer for vacations. Soon after, Tom Fitzmaurice quoted his wife as saying, I cry every day when I see the look of pain and despair in my husband's eyes. Outside the court, other victims assemble.

Mr. IRWIN CANTOR: I'm a professional loser, yeah.

PESCA: Irwin Cantor was one of them.

Mr. CANTOR: I wasn't doing as well as I could've been (unintelligible). I went to a very dear friend and asked him to do me a big favor, and he did. And I got into Bernie Madoff. I still love the guy who got me in because he went down too. And there we are.

PESCA: Cantor was hurt badly, but not ruined. The court heard from some in his position and some who said Bernard Madoff robbed their entire savings. Michael Schwartz counted himself as lucky, at least compared to his disabled twin brother, whose ability to live in a good group home was destroyed by Bernie Madoff.

There was also Carla Hirshhorn, who said she was thankful that her father died before he realized that his wife's financial security was ruined. Cheryl Weinstein said, Bernard Madoff dresses like us, walks like us, eats and drinks like us, but underneath, he is a beast. Outside the courthouse, her husband Ron said they were so fooled by Madoff that they were proud when their son was hired to work for the man who would one day destroy his family's finances.

Mr. RON WEINSTEIN: We were taken by surprise, as every other victim. You would've never saw it coming. Totally a nice guy, understated, unassuming, fell for it lock, stock and barrel.

PESCA: Words tumbled out of some victims, others vacillated between tears and rage. This contrasted with Madoff's attorney, Ira Sorkin, who spoke in a halting and, at times, qualified language. As far as we know, Sorkin said, there was no ferreting away of funds.

When it came Madoff's time to talk, he rose and kept two fists balled on the table as if for ballast. How do you excuse deceiving your family, your investors and an industry you spent your life trying to improve? Then Madoff turned and faced the victims and said, I know this will not help, I am sorry.

Madoff investor George Nierenberg thought the reason Madoff spoke to the victims might have been something he said at Madoff's plea hearing several months ago.

Mr. GEORGE NIERENBERG: I called him Madoff. I said, Madoff turn around and acknowledge your victims. And he turned, he looked at me, but he never looked at the victims. In fact, today, when he did turn around and acknowledged the victims, I felt as if there was a satisfaction that I had actually penetrated.

PESCA: Judge Chin had the last word, saying he believed investor losses to be closer to $60 billion. Chin spent much of his statement utterly dismissing each argument the Madoff team put forth. Madoff's lawyers had dubbed the sentence beyond 12 years as having no practical purpose. It was symbolic. Judge Chin ran with that idea.

For reasons of symbolism, and to further the principles of retribution and deterrence and to keep faith with victims, Bernard Madoff was sentenced to a 150 years in prison. Because federal prisoners cannot be released before at least 85 percent of their sentences are served, it seems certain that Madoff will spend the rest of his life in confinement.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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Madoff Sentenced To Maximum 150 Years In Prison

Spectators and victims lined up outside a New York courthouse for Bernard Madoff's sentencing. i i

hide captionHundreds of spectators and dozens of victims lined up outside the United States Courthouse in New York on Monday for the sentencing of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Spectators and victims lined up outside a New York courthouse for Bernard Madoff's sentencing.

Hundreds of spectators and dozens of victims lined up outside the United States Courthouse in New York on Monday for the sentencing of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Convicted swindler Bernard Madoff was sentenced Monday to 150 years in prison for stealing billions of dollars from hundreds of investors over decades in one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin called the scope of the fraud "staggering" and gave the 71-year-old financier the maximum sentence allowed, ensuring Madoff would live out his days behind bars. The probation department had recommended a 50-year term, while the defense lawyer had sought 12 years behind bars for his client.

With the verdict, Chin said he was sending a message "that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil, and that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll."

Cheers and applause erupted from the gallery as Chin announced the verdict.

Before the sentence was handed down, Madoff faced the wrath of nine of the hundreds of people he cheated in the fraud that wiped out fortunes large and small. Although he showed no emotion during their testimony, he did offer an apology to family and victims.

"I dug myself deeper into a hole" as the scheme progressed, Madoff said, adding that he would "live with this pain, this torment, for the rest of my life."

The victims who came forward testified that they had suffered financial ruin because of Madoff's fraud.

"How could somebody do this to us? How could this be real? We did nothing wrong," said Dominic Ambrosino, a retired New York City corrections officer. "We will have to sell our home and hope to survive on Social Security alone."

"Life has been a living hell. It feels like the nightmare we can't wake from," said Carla Hirshhorn.

Tom Fitzmaurice accused Madoff of cheating his victims "so he and his wife, Ruth, could live a life of luxury beyond belief."

Another victim, Michael Schwartz, told Madoff he wished a jail cell would be the disgraced financier's coffin.

Madoff has already been ordered to forfeit assets worth more than $170 billion — the amount prosecutors say "flowed into the principal account to perpetrate the Ponzi scheme." The amount includes all his personal property, real estate, investments and $80 million in assets that his wife — who has not been charged — had claimed were hers. The order left her with $2.5 million.

After the sentencing, Ruth Madoff said in a statement that she felt "betrayed and confused" by the actions of her husband. "The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years."

She added: "Not a day goes by when I don't ache over the stories that I have heard and read."

The exact amount of the fraud has yet to be calculated, largely because it was so vast and went on for so long. Weeks before Bernard Madoff's December arrest, statements showed that his firm had $56 billion in accounts.

Madoff's case has become symbolic of Wall Street greed and a laissez-faire attitude toward federal oversight. Madoff, a former Nasdaq chairman, had earned a reputation as a trusted money manager with a track record of delivering stellar returns in good markets and bad. His clients — ranging from Florida retirees to celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, actor Kevin Bacon and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax — consistently enjoyed steady double-digit returns.

On March 12, Madoff pleaded guilty 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 legitimate.

The terms require the Madoffs to sell a $7 million Manhattan apartment where Ruth Madoff still lives. An $11 million estate in Palm Beach, Fla., a $4 million home in Montauk and a $2.2 million boat will be put on the market as well.

Aside from an accountant accused of helping Madoff hide the scheme, no one else has been criminally charged. But family members as well as brokerages that recruited investors have come under intense scrutiny by the FBI, regulators and a court-appointed trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff's assets.

In bankruptcy filings, trustee Irving Picard said 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 $1 million in fees at high-end golf clubs in Florida and on Long Island, N.Y.

Picard has sought to reclaim ill-gotten gains by freezing Madoff's business bank accounts and selling off legitimate portions of his firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. (Its season tickets for the New York Mets went for $38,100.) He also is suing big money managers and investors for billions of dollars, claiming they were Madoff cronies who also cashed in on the fraud.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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