June 30, 2009 in Nation/World

Madoff gets stiffest term of 150 years for big swindle

Victims have mixed emotions in packed courtroom
James Bernstein Newsday
Associated Press photo

Associated Press Bernard Madoff victim Cynthia Friedman speaks to reporters before his sentencing Monday in New York.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

NEW YORK – One hundred and fifty years.

Bernard Madoff showed no emotion when U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin on Monday sentenced the convicted Wall Street swindler to the maximum for pulling off the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

“Symbolism is important to deter future crimes and as retribution,” Chin said. “Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil.”

The judge said he hoped the sentence will help victims heal.

Chin said that trustees had said Madoff had not been helpful in their efforts to find stolen funds. Chin said Madoff, 71, only cooperated after his arrest.

“I do not get the sense Mr. Madoff has done all he could or told all that he knows,” Chin said.

The judge said that he had received “not a single letter … attesting to Mr. Madoff’s good deeds. The absence of such support is telling.”

Madoff earlier told a hushed lower Manhattan courtroom Monday that he left a “legacy of shame” and had deceived his wife, their two sons and his brothers in swindling thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.

“I thought I could get out of it,” Madoff said. “I made an error of judgment … I am responsible for a great deal of pain.”

At the end of his statement, Madoff turned around and faced investors. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know that doesn’t help you.”

After the sentencing, Norma Hill, a victim, said she felt no closure. “It’s very easy to say something like that after the fact,” Hill said of Madoff’s apology.

She said that, awhile ago, Madoff “put his arms around my shoulders and assured me everything was safe” when in fact it was not. “The judge made a courageous decision,” Hill said.

Miriam Siegman, 65, of Manhattan, said she was furious at government agencies and urged that the system be changed.

“It’s immaterial to me what sentence he receives,” Siegman said after the sentencing. She said she refused to remain in the courtroom while Madoff spoke. “The issue is, for me, that this never happens to anyone again,” Siegman said.

She said that she checked with the Securities and Exchange Commission before investing with Madoff in 1992 and was told he was “clean as a whistle. If I checked in 2000, they would have said the same thing,” Siegman said.

Madoff, Siegman said, “took away my ability to pay rent, to eat. I’m on food stamps now.”

Sharon Lissauer, also of Manhattan, said it made her feel a little better that Madoff turned around to address the victims.

“But it’s not going to bring the victims back their money,” Lissauer said. “If he was sorry, he wouldn’t have done this all these years. What really kills me is I entrusted my mother’s money. She just died.”

Before the disgraced financier spoke in court, victims of Madoff, many of them tearful, told the judge that they wanted Madoff’s attorneys to keep looking for stolen funds and they hoped the swindler spent the rest of his life in prison.

Madoff’s attorney Ira Lee Sorkin told the judge that Madoff should receive no more than 12 years. “Punishment should not be about vengeance,” Sorkin told the judge.

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