Bernard Madoff, mastermind of the elaborate Ponzi scheme that ensnared showbiz figures including Steven Spielberg, was sentenced to the maximum of 150 years in prison Monday.
At the morning hearing, Judge Denny Chin threw the book at the former financier, who bilked thousands of former clients out of pensions, retirement funds, endowments and other investments to the tune of at least $13 billion — and possibly as much as $65 billion.
Chin, who had been urged by the defense to hand down a shorter sentence of 12 years, noted that no one had come forward as a character witness for the defendant, calling that fact “telling.”
“I have a sense Mr. Madoff has not done all that he could do, or told all that he knows,” Chin said.
The list of Madoff’s victims includes Spielberg and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, both of whom founded charities that invested donors’ money with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities — then seen as a solid, conservative fund with unusually regular returns. Showbiz types including John Malkovich, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Larry King were defrauded as well.
Along with his charity concern’s loss of $10.6 million, Nobel laureate Wiesel and his wife also lost their life savings. “My wife takes care of a thousand Ethiopian children in Israel,” Wiesel said at a panel discussion on the scheme in February. “We were going to open a third center in Jerusalem. We cannot do it now. What (he has) done to others, to hospitals, to educational institutions — my God! Didn’t he think?”
Many of Madoff’s victims tore into him at Monday’s 90-minute hearing, as did Ruth Madoff, his wife of 50 years, in a written statement released Monday afternoon. In the statement, her first public communication since her husband’s fraud became national news, she commiserated with Madoff’s victims, saying that she, too, had been hoodwinked by her husband.
Ruth Madoff has consistently pled ignorance, a defense that has been criticized as implausible given the length of the couple’s relationship and the duration of the scheme — at least 25 years. She is under legal pressure to prove that her own assets were not all generated by her husband’s crimes, since any money belonging to Bernard is immediately part of the $170 billion forfeit ordered by Chin.
Stripped of his wealth, denounced by his family, publicly reviled and now sentenced to live out his days behind bars, the disgraced 71-year-old Madoff stood before his accusers and said, “I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t help you.”
His victims agreed.