Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff will spend the rest of his life behind bars as a federal judge sentenced him to 150 years in prison for a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that was staggering in scope and human destruction.
“I have taken into account other cases - but nothing compares in terms of scope,” U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin told the court moments before handing down the sentence. “Not a single letter was submitted in support of Madoff. Not friends, not family. That is telling.”
“The message must be sent that Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil,” Chin continued shortly before the courtroom erupted in applause at the maximum sentence. “The message must be sent in society governed by rule of law that Mr. Madoff will get what he deserves.”
The 71-year-old Madoff and his lawyer argued for a 12-year sentence, and Madoff even faced his victims and apologized before the court but Chin delivered the 150 years requested by prosecutors.
Victims Describe Their Lives After Getting Swindled
Madoff was sentenced after hearing firsthand from his everyday victims who described to the court their lives of suffering in the wake of the scam: endless anxiety, food stamps, working multiple jobs, dreams and security shattered.
One victim asked the court to consider what kind of man would steal from Holocaust survivor and advocate for peace Elie Wiesel.
"Commit Madoff to prison for the rest of his life," victim Burt Ross told the court. "May Satan grow a fourth mouth where Madoff can spend the rest of eternity."
After Madoff's victims laid out a litany of woe, Madoff took his turn, delivering a speech that furthered the notion that he committed this epic crime all by himself.
"I cannot offer an excuse for my behavior," Madoff said. "How do you excuse deceiving investors ... and 200 employees? How do you excuse lying to my sons and two brothers? How do you excuse lying to a wife who stood by you for 50 years and still stands by me? There is no excuse for that."
Madoff talked more of his personal pain before acknowledging his victims' suffering.
"I've left a legacy of shame to my family and my grandchildren that is something that I will live with for the rest of my life," said Madoff. "I will apologize to my victims and I will turn to face them."
Madoff then slowly turned around, faced his victims and said, "I'm sorry."
Earlier, Madoff looked straight ahead or at his hands as his victims described their suffering. Dominic Ambrosino, a retired corrections officer, recalled the exact second his wife told him the news.
"How can we pay bills?" he recalled thinking as he addressed the court. "This can't be real. We did nothing wrong. When I was able to leave my job, we bought a motor home. We trusted savings would be there ... We lost our freedom."
There were painful commonalities as Madoff's victims spoke of working multiple jobs, nights of endless tears and worry and unbridled anger at the huckster who destroyed their lives.
"His was a violent crime without use of a tangible weapon," said Tom Fitzmaurice in his turn before the court. "The pain he has inflicted will go on for years. I will worry every day for my wife. How will I pay bills? How will I afford medical insurance? My wife says she cried every day. She cries every day over the life we lost."
Another victim also described his life as "lost."
"Part of that money was," said Michael Schwartz, pausing to control his tears,"for my brother who is mentally disabled. He needs care and supervision for the rest of his life. Bernard Madoff stole from the disabled. Every time he cashed a check, he killed dreams ... Bernard Madoff should not be allowed back in society. His jail cell should become his coffin."
Prosecutors asked for and received a sentence that would ensure that.
Before Madoff addressed the court and got the max, his lawyer asked for a sentencing that was shielded from the raw emotion of the day.
"We cannot be unmoved by what we heard," Ira Sorkin said. "This is a tragedy for victims at every level. We represent a deeply flawed individual. We represent a human being - not a statistic, not a number....The magnificence of the legal system is we do not seek an eye for an eye."
Last week, a judge issued a preliminary $171 billion forfeiture order stripping Madoff of all his personal property, including real estate, investments and $80 million in assets his wife Ruth had claimed were hers. The order left her with $2.5 million. After the verdict, Ruth Madoff broke her silence, saying "my reluctance to speak has been interpreted as indifference or lack of sympathy for the victims of my husband Bernie's crime, which is exactly the opposite of the truth."
"All those touched by this fraud feel betrayed; disbelieving the nightmare they woke to," Ruth Madoff said. "I am embarrassed and ashamed. 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."
The forfeiture terms require the Madoffs to sell a $7 million Manhattan apartment where Ruth Madoff still lives. An $11 million estate in Palm Beach, Fla., a $4 million home in Montauk and a $2.2 million boat will be put on the market as well.
Yet, six months after his arrest, prosecutors still don't know exactly how much money he took or what victims might hope to eventually recover.
Madoff may have ripped off many high-profile celebrity investors – Steven Spielberg, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, John Malkovich and John Denver – but many of his victims were just regular people who saw their entire savings destroyed by Madoff's crimes.
A sizable roster of public school teachers, farmers, mechanics and other middle-class folk are also among the victims. Many had been enjoying a comfortable retirement until Madoff's arrest in December. Now, nest eggs gone, they are struggling to pay the bills.
Madoff gained the trust of Sheryl Weinstein when she met him through Hadassah, the woman's Zionist organization of America, Weinstein told the court.
"How much did I lose?" Weinstein asked rhetorically. "When you lose everything, it doesn't matter."
Weinstein noted that she didn't lose any money; she had it stolen by a monster.
"That monster has a name: Madoff," said Weinstein. "He walks among us. But he is a beast who has fed upon us to satisfy his own needs. I am asking your honor to keep him in a cage."
Tim Minton and Alice McQuillan contributed to this report.