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Wall Street swindler Madoff jailed for 150 years

world Updated: Jun 30, 2009 07:46 IST
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Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff was jailed for 150 years Monday, dealt the maximum sentence for his multi-billion dollar scam that ruined Hollywood clients and middle-class pensioners alike.

"It is the judgment of this court that Bernard Madoff should be sentenced to 150 years in jail," Judge Denny Chin said, imposing the toughest possible sentence even after Madoff made a courtroom apology to his victims.

"I leave a legacy of shame to my family. I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain. I live in a tormented state," the disgraced 71-year-old financier said as he now faces spending the rest of his life in prison.

Madoff looked at the judge and said "I apologize to my victims" and then turned around to face some of those who lost their life savings in a three-decade long scam.

"I am sorry," he said simply. "I don't ask for forgiveness."

"I cannot offer an excuse for my behavior," he added. "How do you excuse deceiving investors... and 200 employees? How do you excuse lying to my sons and two brothers? How do you excuse lying to a wife who stood by you for 50 years and still stands by me? There is no excuse for that."

Defense lawyer Ira Sorkin had asked the judge to impose a sentence of 12 years given Madoff's age, arguing that such a jail term would be "sufficient" and that "vengeance is not the goal of punishment."

But the nine victims who spoke, some in tears, vented their fury at the man who cheated them out of their hard-earned savings and shattered their lives.

Cheryl Weinstein blasted Madoff as "a monster" and a "beast."

"He walks among us. But he is a beast who has fed upon us to satisfy his own needs...I am asking you to keep in a cage behind bars," she fumed.

Breaking into tears, Burt Ross, who was swindled out of five million dollars, said Madoff "has truly earned his reputation of being the most despised person in America today."

And 33-year-old Michael Schwartz, who said money stolen from his family has been set aside to take care of his mentally disabled brother, railed against Madoff.

"I only hope that his jail sentence is long enough so that his jail cell becomes his coffin," he added.

As court-appointed liquidators struggle to recover the missing billions to compensate some of Madoff's clients, Judge Chin told the court: "I don't get the sense that Bernard Madoff said all that he could or told all that he knows."

Chin said there had not been a single letter from friends or family testifying to Madoff's good deeds. "The absence of such support is telling," he said.

"The symbolism of the sentence is important for three reasons: retribution, deterrence and it is important for the victims," he said.

"I do not agree that the victims are succumbing to the temptation of mob vengeance."

The verdict came some six months after the former Nasdaq stock market chairman was unmasked as a huge con artist who ran one of the biggest financial scams of all time.

Prosecutors say about 13 billion dollars was handed to Madoff. The financier himself has talked about losing some 50 billion dollars, which is believed to be the amount that would have been paid out had the funds been properly invested.

Once the darling of the markets who was believed to have the Midas touch, Madoff admitted 11 charges of fraud, perjury and theft in March.

Among his victims were Hollywood celebrities, international movers and shakers, some of the world's most famous banks and Jewish charities, some of which were forced to close after the scheme unraveled.

Madoff told the court in March that of the billions of dollars which passed through his hands during his three-decade scam he never invested one cent in the market. Instead he stashed the funds in a Chase Manhattan bank account.

The funds were then used to pay out "dividends" to investors in what is known as a "Ponzi scheme."

The sums were shockingly large -- bigger than the gross domestic product of countries such as Luxembourg, and more than the external debt of several poor African nations.

Chin has ordered that Madoff forfeit over 170 billion dollars in illegally obtained assets, following a request from the prosecutors.

In an accompanying order, a district court in New York also stipulated that his wife, Ruth Madoff, be stripped of 85 million dollars in assets, leaving her with just 2.5 million dollars in cash.

One lingering issue is how to return the stolen funds. Of the billions dollars which were lost, prosecutors say only one billion dollars have been recovered from the liquidation of his assets.

The judge deferred the issue of restitution for another 90 days to give court-appointed liquidators more time to recover the missing funds. He also gave Madoff 10 days to appeal.