Originally published June 29, 2009 at 6:31 a.m., updated June 29, 2009 at 9:05 a.m.
U.S. Convicted swindler Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison Monday for the multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme he ran for decades, taking in everyone from ordinary retirees to A-list celebrities.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin gave the 71-year-old financier the maximum sentence allowed, assuring the disgraced financier would live out his days behind bars. The Probation Department had recommended a 50-year term, while Madoff's lawyer had sought 12 years behind bars for his client.
Chin called Madoff's fraud "staggering" and noted that it spanned more than 20 years. He says "the breach of trust was massive." Cheers and applause erupted from the gallery as Chin announced the verdict.
Before the sentence was handed down, Madoff faced the wrath of some of the hundreds of people he cheated in the fraud that wiped out fortunes large and small.
"I dug myself deeper into a hole" as the scheme progressed, he said in apology to family and victims. He said he would "live with this pain, this torment, for the rest of my life."
Several victims came forward to give emotional testimony about how 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 Ruth Madoff — who has not been charged — had claimed were hers. The order left her with $2.5 million.
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 the financier's December arrest, statements showed 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 for 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 brokerage firms 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. (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.