NEW YORK - Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his multibillion-dollar fraud scheme in a court room here today, which means the 71-year-old will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"I cannot offer an excuse for my behavior," said Madoff. "I will have to live with the pain and torment for the rest of my life."
Scattered applause and whoops broke out in the crowded Manhattan courtroom after US District Judge Denny Chin issued the maximum sentence to the defendant, who said he lives "in a tormented state now, knowing all the pain and suffering I've created."
Chin rejected a request by Madoff's lawyer for leniency and said he disagreed that victims of the fraud were seeking mob vengeance.
In handing down the sentence, Chin said, "The message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil."
The judge said the estimate that Madoff has cost his victims more than $13 billion was conservative because it did not include money from feeder funds.
"Objectively speaking, the fraud here was staggering," he said.
Before Chin announced the sentence, Madoff stood at the defense table, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a tie, and looking thinner than at his last court appearance, in March. He had no noticeable reaction when the sentence was announced.
He also showed no emotion earlier in the hearing as he listened to nine victims spend nearly an hour describing their despair. Some openly wept. Others raised their voices in anger.
"Life has been a living hell. It feels like the nightmare we can't wake from," said Carla Hirshhorn.
"He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between. He had no values," said Tom Fitzmaurice. "He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife Ruth could live a life of luxury beyond belief."
Dominic Ambrosino called it an "indescribably heinous crime" and urged a long prison sentence so "will know he is imprisoned in much the same way he imprisoned us and others."
He added: "In a sense, I would like somebody in the court today to tell me how long is my sentence."
When asked by the judge whether he had anything to say, Madoff slowly stood, leaned forward on the defense table and spoke in a monotone for about 10 minutes. At various times, he referred to his historic fraud as a "problem," "an error of judgment" and "a tragic mistake."
He claimed he and his wife were tormented, saying she "cries herself to sleep every night, knowing all the pain and suffering I have caused," he said. "That's something I live with, as well."
He then finally looked at the victims lining the first row of the gallery.
"I will turn and face you," he said. "I'm sorry. I know that doesn't help you."
Afterward, Ruth Madoff - often a target of victims' scorn since her husband's arrest - broke her silence by issuing a statement through her lawyer. She said she, too, had been misled.
"I am embarrassed and ashamed," she said. "Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused. The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years."
Prosecutor Lisa Baroni said Madoff deserved a life sentence because he "stole ruthlessly and without remorse."
Madoff was arrested late last year after confessing to his sons that his secretive investment advisory business was a "big lie."
He pleaded guilty to securities fraud and other charges in March and has been jailed since.
Madoff's victims included Boston-area investors and nonprofits.
Saphira Linden, artistic director of the Omega Theater in Jamaica Plain, was closely monitoring news reports this morning about Madoff's sentencing. The theater lost its entire $70,000 endowment with Madoff.
Linden said she personally lost money as an individual investor as well.
"I think they're trying to send a dramatic message, which is good," she said of the sentencing.
But Linden added that she was more concerned about investors getting some of their money back than about the number of years Madoff will spend in jail.
Boston attorney Robert J. Muldoon Jr. said he was not surprised that Madoff received the maximum sentence.
"It's hard to think of any punishment that would fit the magnitude of this crime," Muldoon said.
Madoff came to court in a dark suit and he stood to read his statement when the judge asked him if had any comment.
To read some previous Globe coverage of Madoff, please click here.
(By Beth Healy, Globe staff. And Globe wire services. File photo of Madoff: Ruby Washington/The New York Times.)