U.S. District Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernard Madoff to 150 years after hearing from victims. Federal sentencing guidelines require the 71-year-old Madoff to serve at least 80 percent of that time, which means he would not be eligible for parole before 2129, making this sentence in essence a life sentence. His lawyer had asked for a lenient sentence of 12 years; prosecutors demanded a 150-year sentence.
The courtroom, as well as two overflow rooms where onlookers watched the proceedings on closed-circuit TV, were packed, according to reports on CNN. Nine victims were given opportunities to speak before the sentencing. "We implore you to give the maximum sentence at a maximum prison for this deplorable lowlife," one of the victims said, according to CNN. "This is a violent crime without a tangible weapon."
Speaking on behalf of his wife, the victim added, "I have a marriage made in heaven. You have [a] marriage made in hell, and that's where you'll return. May God spare you no mercy." Some not only blamed Madoff, but also the SEC for failing to protect investors.
Madoff spoke for six minutes to apologize to victims before hearing his sentence. He said, "I will live with this pain and torment for the rest of my life."
TV cameras, cell phones and BlackBerrys were banned from the courtroom. Madoff's family was not present, nor have they been at any court appearances since his arrest last December. His wife has said she can't face the victims. Madoff's sons have not spoken to their parents since he admitted to the fraud. All conversations among the Madoffs have been through attorneys. His brother, Peter, also has avoided court hearings.
Last week Madoff and his wife were stripped of all his personal property, after a judge issued a preliminary $171 billion forfeiture order. His wife, Ruth Madoff, was left with $2.5 million -- far less that the $80 million she claimed was hers. The terms of the agreement require the Madoffs to sell a $7 million Manhattan apartment, where Ruth is living; an $11 million estate in Palm Beach, Florida; a $4 million home in Montauk, New York; and a $2.2 million boat.
The $171 billion forfeiture used by prosecutors represents the sum that they estimate flowed through Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme. Yet so far investigators have only identified $13.2 billion in net losses for 1,300 customer accounts. Trustee Irving Picard so far has collected about $1.2 billion to return to investors. Those who invested directly with Madoff will get at least $500,000 in SIPC insurance funds, but those who invested through feeder funds are not eligible for the SIPC payout. Most of the indirect investors will have to wait for the trustee to finish his work, including clawback lawsuits to recover gains withdrawn by some Madoff investors. Picard has already filed clawback lawsuits totaling $10 billion, including suits against Cohmad Securities, a feeder fund; Jeffry Picower,(who allegedly took out $5.2 billion; and Stanley Chais.
One big question to be answered is what will happen to the assets of Madoff's brother and sons, who have not been charged. Reports have indicated that Madoff loaned his sons millions of dollars. While the forfeiture means they will not need to repay the funds to their father, Picard could seek to recover those and other funds tainted by the Ponzi scheme.
Madoff's family and brokerage firms who recruited investors remain under intense scrutiny by the FBI, regulators and Picard, the court-appointed trustee, but no action has been taken against most of them. The only other person criminally charged is Madoff's accountant, David Friehling, who was arrested on fraud charges in March. He is accused of aiding Madoff in cheating thousands of investors out of billions of dollars over the past two decades.
Investigators have found that Madoff never made any investments, instead using money from new investors to pay returns to existing clients and to finance the lavish lifestyle he and his family enjoyed. In bankruptcy filings, Picard says family members "used customer accounts as though they were their own." Madoff's maid, boat captain and housesitter in Florida were on the company payroll, and nearly $1 million in fees went to high-end golf clubs on Long Island and in Florida.
Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books including Reading Financial Reports for Dummies and Trading for Dummies.
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