Wall Street fraudster Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years on Monday for having tricked his clients out of an estimated $65 billion, the maximum punishment allowed by law. Madoff's lawyer had asked for 12 years.
Bernard Madoff, the 71-year-old financier and perpetrator of a massive financial fraud scheme, was handed a 150-year prison sentence by judges in a New York city court on Monday. Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom upon the announcement, one of the stiffest punishments ever for white-collar crime.
Before the sentencing, the former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market apologised to the courtroom for his crimes. "I cannot offer you an excuse for my behaviour," he said. “How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who entrusted me with their life savings?"
“When you think you’re relying on somebody who was a former head of Nasdaq, who was active in charities and who plays on that fact to attract money and you find out that there is a scam there, it’s very painful emotionally,” former federal prosecutor Jerry Roth told FRANCE 24. “That clearly came through from what we’re hearing from the hearing before the judge and may well have influenced his decision to impose this extraordinary sentence of 150 years.”
Originally arrested in December 2008, “Bernie” Madoff pleaded guilty in March to securities fraud, money laundering and perjury and other charges that carry a combined maximum sentence that would assure he remains behind bars until death.
The courtroom hosted a parade of defrauded investors describing the loss of the entire savings of several generations of families, mortgages unpaid and elderly people unable to pay for medical coverage.
Victims sent more than 100 letters to Judge Denny Chin, most demanding the maximum punishment allowed.
Madoff, a Wall Street star financier, was exceptionally allowed to wear a business suit during the hearing, instead of his prison uniform. In his address he said that he tried to undo his crimes but "the harder I tried, the deeper a hole I dug for myself."
“It’s hard to understand why he went into this scheme,” Amir Weitmann, author of the book "The Madoff Affair" told FRANCE 24. “It had to collapse sooner or later.”
On Friday, Judge Chin demanded that the shamed financier forfeit more than $170 billion in illegally obtained assets. The New York court also asked that his wife, Ruth Madoff, be stripped of $85 million in assets, leaving her with $2.5 million in cash.
Billions down the drain
Months after Madoff’s arrest, US prosecutors remain uncertain how much money was involved and lost in an incredible complex Ponzi scheme that Madoff weaved across the globe.
Prosecutors say banks handed $13 billion to Madoff over the past two decades, but the losses have been estimated between $50 billion and $65 billion.
A Ponzi scheme is a pyramid-type swindle in which very high returns are promised to early investors, who are paid off with money put up by later investors.
“Madoff managed to deceive and defraud some of the best, most intelligent and experienced investors in hedge funds in the world. His genius was the ability to gain the trust of his clients,” said Weitmann.
According to Sofiane Aboura, finance lecturer at the Paris Dauphine University, “the false returns on investments were 15 to 20%, which is totally unbelievable and extraordinary.”
Aboura also found it suspicious that the stock exchange’s overseeing body, the SEC, did not catch the scheme. He suggests a possible explanation: one of the members of the Madoff family was involved with a SEC investigator.
Victims large and small
Among Madoff’s overseas victims were the Spanish bank Santander and the French investment firm Natixis. It is believed individual investors in France alone have lost close to 500 million euros.
The massive fraud sent shock waves far beyond elite financial investment circles and wealthy Jewish investors Madoff personally advised, rocking charities large and small, directly and indirectly.
The foundation established by the the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reportedly lost more than $15 million, nearly all its assets, in the Madoff’s scheme.
US prosecutors argued in court papers on Friday that Judge Chin should make sure Madoff spent the rest of his life in prison because of the "unique scope and duration" of his crimes.
Among ordinary victims, some were even pushed to commit suicide, testifying that they were ruined financially, many having to sell their homes and live off social security.
"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 quoted by Reuters. "We will have to sell our home and hope to survive on social security alone."
“I would like [Madoff] to help bear my burden, and for me that means every day living with the fear, humility and the shame he caused,” said Miriam Siegman, one of the individual investors who faced Madoff in the courtroom on Monday.
Date created : 2009-06-29