Bernard Madoff, the most reviled emblem of business corruption to emerge from the nation's latest gilded age, likely will die behind bars after being sentenced Monday to 150 years in prison for what a federal judge called an "extraordinarily evil," multibillion-dollar scam that victimized charities, celebrities, pension funds and average investors worldwide.
But the departure from the public stage of Madoff — who for the first time Monday declared he was sorry and faced his victims in an emotionally wrenching courtroom session — opens a new chapter in his case. It is likely to focus on an investigation of suspected accomplices, a continued hunt for whatever remains of the stolen billions, and intensifying demands by Madoff's victims for reimbursement and improvements to government's oversight of investment companies.
In imposing a sentence usually given only to the most violent criminals, U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin implicitly discredited the 71-year-old disgraced financier's claim of remorse. And Chin explicitly rejected defense attorney Ira Lee Sorkin's claim that a maximum sentence would unfairly bow to "mob vengeance" demands by the thousands of victims in one of the largest and longest-running financial crimes in history.
Chin said he relied on three factors in setting the sentence: retribution for the unprecedented size of the $13 billion-plus scam, the need to deter any future similar wrongdoers and the scam's impact on its victims.
"The message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of irresponsible manipulation of the system is not merely a bloodless financial crime that takes place just on paper, but that it is ... one that takes a staggering human toll," said Chin, who added that Madoff had not been fully cooperative with authorities.
The punishment far exceeded the prison terms given to other noted white-collar criminals whose convictions involved smaller securities frauds. Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years. Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling received a 24-year prison term.
Madoff, dressed in a gray suit the judge allowed him to wear instead of a prison uniform, stood silently and showed no emotion as Chin announced the sentence.
Applause and cheers
The estimated 60 scam victims in the lower Manhattan federal courtroom applauded and sent up a muted cheer at hearing Madoff's punishment.
"I thought the judge was brilliant. He just hit it out of the ballpark," said Burt Ross, a former Fort Lee, N.J., mayor who was one of nine victims who addressed the court and called for the maximum penalty.
A jubilant Michael DeVita, a Madoff investor from Chalfont, Pa., flashed a V-for-victory sign as he left the courthouse. "One hundred and fifty years made me feel really good that for the first time, the government came down on our side and did the right thing," he said.
Like the judge and federal prosecutors, DeVita and other victims rejected the courtroom pronouncements of Madoff, who turned toward his victims and said, "I am sorry. I know that doesn't help you." Several victims noted afterward that Madoff pointedly tried to absolve his wife, Ruth, his brother Peter and sons Andrew and Mark from any involvement in the scam.