Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison on Monday for perpetrating Wall Street’s biggest and most brazen investment fraud.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March to running the multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, in which investors were paid returns from money paid by later investors.
Emotional victims who spoke at Madoff’s sentencing asked U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to impose the maximum sentence of 150 years, an effective life term for the 71-year-old. Cheers and applause came from the courtroom as Madoff stood facing the judge with his hands clasped in front of him.
“Your Honor, I cannot offer you can excuse for my behavior… There’s no excuse… and I don’t seek forgiveness,” he told the judge. “I live in an almost tormented state now thinking about all of the pain and suffering I’ve created. I’ve left a legacy of shame to my family and my grandchildren.”
“People have accused me of being silent and not being sympathetic. That is not true. You should know I feel sorry for everything that I’ve done. This is a horrible thing to live with. But there is nothing that I can do that will make your lives better”, he told some of his victims, who made it to the court.
Defense attorneys had sought 12 years for the former Nasdaq chairman, while prosecutors wanted the maximum. The federal probation department had recommended 50 years.
Chin termed the fraud staggering and noted that it spanned more than 20 years, calling the breach of trust massive.
Investigators do not know exactly how much was stolen in the fraud, according to court papers. Prosecutors say $170 billion flowed through the principal Madoff account over decades, and that weeks before the financier’s December arrest the firm’s statements showed a total of $65 billion in accounts.
The trustee winding down the Madoff firm has so far collected $1.2 billion to return to investors.
“Given the enormous amount of funds he has stolen and the number of victims, the sentence is going to be very, very high,” said Paul Radvany, a law professor at Fordham University in New York and a former federal prosecutor.
Madoff’s brother, Peter, and his sons, Mark and Andrew, held executive positions in the brokerage unit of Madoff’s firm. Their lawyers say they were not aware of or involved in the crooked asset management side.
The judge allowed Madoff, a former nonexecutive chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, to wear his own clothes at the sentencing hearing, instead of the loose-fitting uniform issued by the jail where he has been held since pleading guilty March 12. He wore a dark business suit.
Madoff has said all along that he committed the fraud on his own. He has not named any accomplices. The only other person charged is his outside accountant.