NEW YORK, Jun 29 – Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff was handed a 150-year jail term Monday, the maximum sentence possible for his massive financial scam over years, that ruined high-end 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 despite Madoff\’s 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 financier said, addressing the judge and victims, several of whom also spoke at the hearing.
"I will live with this pain for the rest of my life," said Madoff.
"I apologize to my victims. I am sorry," he said.
Defense lawyer Ira Sorkin had asked the judge to impose a sentence of no more than 20 years which he said would be "sufficient" given Madoff\’s remorse.
But many of the victims asked for that the toughest possible sentence be imposed including one tearful woman who asked that he be kept "in a cage behind bars," and a man who, after being financially "wiped out by Madoff" said he wants "to make sure his prison cell becomes his coffin."
The verdict came some six months after the former Nasdaq stock market chairman was unmasked as a huge con artist whose ruined victims lost homes, inheritances, stock portfolios and life savings in 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 now languishes in a tiny prison cell after admitting 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 wife Ruth Madoff be stripped of 85 million dollars in assets, leaving her with just 2.5 million dollars in cash.
In addition to having what remains of his fortune stripped away, Madoff is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.
One lingering issue in the case 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.
Outside the courthouse Monday, Michael De Vita was among many deceived investors who had said he hoped the judge would be tough.
"I am here to see how the justice system can do, in the face of the biggest thief in the history on the universe," De Vita, 59, told AFP.