Admitted swindler Bernie Madoff received the maximum sentence of 150 years in prison today by a judge in New York City who said he felt compelled to send a message to potential imitators that this type of crime will not go unpunished.
The courtroom broke out in applause when U.S. District Judge Dennis Chin announced the sentence:
"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."
The 71-year-old Madoff showed no noticeable reaction when the sentence was announced. Those in the court said Madoff looked thinner than in previous appearances.
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Madoff addressed the court for ten minutes before the sentence was handed down. He referred to his Ponzi scheme as a "problem," "an error in judgment," and a "tragic mistake:"
"I cannot offer you an excuse for my behavior. How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who entrusted me with their life savings?... I live in a tormented state now, knowing the pain and suffering I have created."
At one point, Madoff turned to his victims who showed up to see Madoff get his punishment and said:
"I will turn and face you. I'm sorry. I know that doesn't help you."
Judge Chin rejected the defense's request for a 12 year prison term. He said he needed to send a symbolic message, and that Madoff's victims deserved to see him get a harsh sentence. Nine of those victim's testified at the hearing. Carla Hirshborn said:
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"Life has been a living hell. It feels like the nightmare we can't wake from."
Tom Fitzmaurice added:
"He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between. He had no values. He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife Ruth could live a life of luxury beyond belief."
Ruth Madoff was not in court for her husband's sentencing. She is busy trying to figure out where she will live. As part of a forfeiture order issued last week, Ruth Madoff will give up her $7 million Manhattan apartment, as well as all of the couple's other personal property. The order left Mrs. Madoff with "only" $2.5 million that investigators could not tie to Madoff's Ponzi scheme.