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Bernard Madoff gets maximum 150 years in prison

Published: Monday, June 29 2009 11:55 a.m. MDT

Ira Sorkin, Attorney for Bernard Madoff, enters Manhattan federal court Monday in New York.

Louis Lanzano, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Convicted Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison Monday for a fraud so extensive that the judge said he needed to send a message to potential imitators and to victims who demanded harsh punishment.

Scattered applause and whoops broke out in the crowded Manhattan courtroom after U.S. District Judge Denny Chin issued the maximum sentence to the 71-year-old 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 Ponzi scheme were seeking mob vengeance.

"Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll," Chin said.

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.

Chin announced the sentence with Madoff standing at the defense table, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a tie, and looking thinner than his last court appearance in March. He gave 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."

The jailed Madoff already has taken a severe financial hit: 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 Ruth Madoff had claimed were hers. The order left her with $2.5 million.

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