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Madoff gets 150 years in prison

‘Extraordinary evil’ cited by judge

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By Beth Healy and Casey Ross
Globe Staff / June 30, 2009
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NEW YORK - Despite his claims of contrition, Bernard L. Madoff was sentenced yesterday to 150 years in prison for a crime a federal judge called an act of “extraordinary evil.’’

The lengthy sentence - ensuring Madoff will die behind bars - was the harshest possible punishment that US District Judge Denny Chin could impose.

In March, the former investment manager confessed to swindling some of the nation’s wealthiest families and prominent philanthropies out of their fortunes, along with cheating widows, retired teachers, tradesmen, and hundreds of other middle-class investors out of their life savings.

“The fraud here was staggering,’’ Chin said during the sentencing in a packed Manhattan courtroom. “This is not just a matter of money. The breach of trust was massive.’’

And yet investigators are still trying to determine its full scope.

Last night, a person familiar with the investigation said 10 more people are likely to face federal charges over the next few months, the Associated Press reported. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not say whether Madoff’s relatives or former employees are being targeted.

Boston was one of several focal points of Madoff’s two-decade fraud, and yesterday several victims from Massachusetts expressed satisfaction after the sentencing. But they said the prison term is not enough to undo the financial devastation he brought.

“I wish there was some way for him to feel the hurt and the damage he has created,’’ said David Ranzer, a retired broker from Williamstown who said he lost a nearly seven-figure sum to Madoff. “But I don’t think he’s capable of that, and the reason he is not capable of that is the very reason he allowed himself to do what he did.’’

Madoff drew many clients from the networks of Boston’s and New York’s wealthy Jewish communities, often socializing with them in the winter retreat of Palm Beach, Fla. Among them was the Shapiro family of Boston.

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the recovery of money for victims accused Robert Jaffe of Weston, the son-in-law of Carl and Ruth Shapiro, and the brokerage firm at which he worked of steering more than $1 billion in investors’ money to Madoff - when he should have known Madoff was running a fraud. Regulators said Jaffe earned at least $150 million from Madoff.

Jaffe, through his attorney, denied the charges.

Dozens of victims who submitted statements to the court detailed the extreme privation that Madoff’s theft had left them in. Some said they were reduced to living on Social Security, being forced to sell their homes, or returning to work years after having retired.

Madoff tried to address the anger and the emotions in a statement in court. Dressed in a dark suit and looking thinner than in March, when he pleaded guilty, Madoff spoke quietly, almost meekly - in marked contrast to the tearful, angst-ridden statements read by nine victims.

First calling the fraud a “problem’’ and an “error of judgment,’’ Madoff said he dug himself into a hole he couldn’t dig out of. “I could not accept the fact that, for once in my life, I had failed. And that was a tragic mistake.’’

Madoff seemed most sorry for having betrayed his sons and brother, as well as his wife, who, he said, stood by him for 50 years and “cries herself to sleep every night.’’ He said he was leaving a legacy of shame. “I will live with this pain, this torment, for the rest of my life,’’ he said.

His wife, Ruth Madoff, also broke a long silence yesterday, issuing a statement saying she felt “betrayed and confused. The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years.

“In the end, to say that I feel devastated for the many whom my husband has destroyed is truly inadequate,’’ she added. “Nothing I can say seems sufficient regarding the daily suffering that all those innocent people are enduring because of my husband.’’

Before the sentencing, Madoff’s attorney, Ira Sorkin, said it was impossible not to feel for the victims, but he still pressed for no more than 20 years - a period, he said, that would see his client to his death or a very old age.

“We represent a deeply flawed individual, but we represent, your honor, a human being,’’ Sorkin said. “The magnificence of our legal system is that we don’t seek an eye for an eye.’’

But Chin said the crime was so heinous, and so dwarfed any other white-collar crime of recent times, that it deserved a serious, example-setting punishment. The victims, he said, should be consoled knowing that “Mr. Madoff will get what he deserves.’’

Whether he stole $13 billion or $65 billion - the latter is a figure Sorkin called “simply untrue’’ - Madoff took hundreds of millions to finance his own life of luxury, Chin said, and paid friends and those who raised money for him billions more.

Chin noted that he had received hundreds of letters condemning Madoff, but not one letter of support came from friends or family about his character or his charitable activities.

“The absence of such support is telling,’’ the judge said.

After sentencing, Madoff was returned to a jail in Manhattan. It was unclear where he will serve his prison time. Chin said he would recommend a facility in the Northeast, but said it’s up to federal prison officials to decide the location and security level. Prison officials declined to comment.

In his five-minute statement, Madoff made one brief acknowledgement of the people whose lives he had damaged.

“I will turn and face you,’’ he said. “I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t help you.’’

But for victim Maureen Ebel, Madoff’s appeal was as disingenuous as his fraud. “I have had great pain and suffering,’’ she said. “I do not believe you.’’

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com; Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.