For more than an hour in a crowded downtown Manhattan courtroom Monday morning, Bernard Madoff sat and listened as victims of his massive financial fraud spoke of their shattered lives.
To some he was a beast and a monster; others begged God not to spare him any mercy, and one 65-year-old pensioner told how she was now living on food stamps. Many said he had shown no remorse.
He did little to change that image Monday when it came his turn to address the court. He stood impassively in a dark grey suit, white shirt and black tie, his voice measured.
“I will live with this pain, with this torment, for the rest of my life,” he said. “I live in a tormented state knowing the pain and suffering I have created.”
For the first time since confessing to his sons back in December that his investment firm was nothing but a giant US$65-billion Ponzi scheme, Madoff, 71, turned his gaze and looked directly at some of his victims.
“I am sorry. I know that doesn’t help you,” he said.
Later, applause erupted in the courtroom when the judge handed out the maximum sentence of 150 years behind bars.
But as his victims, many of them well past retirement age, streamed out of the courthouse to wade through throngs of camera crews and reporters, the tone was more subdued than jubilant.
“At least this time he turned around. He looked me in the eye. That felt good,” said Dominic Ambrosino, a retired New York City corrections officer. “But I’m still poor. Everything I ever worked for in my life is gone.”
The effective life sentence for Madoff came six months after he admitted orchestrating one of the largest and longest-running investment frauds in U.S. history.
His decades-long scheme started to unravel after the financial crisis hit and investors began demanding as much as US$7-billion in redemptions – money Madoff told his sons his firm did not have.
He has been in a Manhattan jail since pleading guilty in March to 11 charges including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury.
As U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin sentenced the former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange, he called his crimes “extraordinarily evil.”
“The breach of trust was massive,” he said. “I simply do not get the sense that Mr. Madoff has done all that he could or told all that he knows.”
The judge added that he did not receive a single letter of support that could testify to Madoff’s charitable works or good deeds. “The absence of such support is telling,” he said.
Madoff’s sons, who broke off communication with their father after he told them of his financial shenanigans at the firm where they both worked, did not appear at the sentencing.
His wife, Ruth, who has been vilified and shunned for standing by her husband’s side throughout the saga, also did not attend.
Madoff has insisted he acted alone in perpetrating the scheme, although many doubt that is likely.
He attracted thousands of investors, which included New York and Florida retirees, charities and university endowments, royalty and celebrities such as Steven Speilberg and actor Kevin Bacon, by reporting years of steady returns — a feat that now seems impossible.
Instead of investing his clients’ money, he put it in the bank, and when they asked for it, he simply paid them with money from other investors.
As camera crews and reporters surrounded them, many of the investors defrauded by the scheme said much of the blame lay with the U.S. government and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to spot the red flags.
“The issue now is for something like this never to happen again,” said Miriam Siegman, who invested her entire savings with Madoff in 1992 and said she has now been forced to survive on food stamps and by collecting recyclable cans.
“My life will never be the same. I am financially ruined and will worry every day how I will take care of my wife,” said Tom FitzMaurice, 63, one of nine defrauded investors who spoke at the fallen financier’s sentencing. “May God spare you no mercy.”
Many victims have lost tens of millions of dollars in the scam and there appears little hope they will see that money again.
So far the trustee unwinding the firm to pay back victims has only recovered about US$1.2-billion, a far cry from the US$65-billion Mr. Madoff claimed on his books at the end of last year.
(c) National Post