NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday night objected to Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff’s bid for release from prison, arguing that the reviled and ailing ex-financier should continue serving his 150-year sentence.
Charging that now 81-year-old convict has “demonstrated a wholesale lack of understanding of the seriousness of his crimes and a lack of compassion for his victims, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York urged a judge to keep him in prison.
“Madoff’s crimes were ‘extraordinarily evil.’ His sentence was appropriately long. It should not be reduced,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Drew Skinner and Louis Pelligrino wrote in the filing to U.S. Circuit Court Judge Denny Chinn, who sentenced Madoff more than a decade ago.
Madoff’s lawyers are scheduled to respond to the government recommendation by March 11.
After that, Chin will decide whether to hold a court hearing before issuing a ruling.
In making his decision, Chin is expected to consider communications from Madoff victims who responded to prosecutors’ request for their views on Madoff’s request. Numerous media organizations, including Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, have asked the court to make the victims’ communications and names public.
Madoff, a former Nasdaq stock market chairman from New York City, ran a decades-long scam that gave celebrities, charities, financial funds and ordinary investors lucrative, eerily steady returns on their investments.
Income poured in, making Madoff and his family rich. His upscale lifestyle included a Manhattan condo, an oceanfront home in Montauk on Long Island’s East End, and a three-bedroom vacation apartment in the south of France.
But he was runninga classic Ponzi scheme, one in which money from more recent investors went to pay earlier investors. What made it unique was its size: arguably the largest in world history, with estimated losses of $17 billion to $20 billion for thousands of investors.
The scam collapsed in December 2008, when Madoff’s businesses could not cover the growing withdrawal requests from investors who sought money amid the Great Recession
For many of those who’d trusted and revered Madoff, the collapse wiped out their life savings and retirement plans. Some had to seek new jobs or move in with friends and relatives.
During the roughly 10 years since, court-appointed trustee Irving Picard and his law firm have recovered more than $14 billion for investors, far more than many would have predicted when Madoff’s implosion rocked Wall Street.
But that recovery came after years of financial suffering for many of the scammed victims.
For Madoff, the beginning of the end came when he confessed the truth to his sons, Mark and Andrew. They notified federal authorities, who arrested Madoff.
Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 and insisted that he alone ran the Ponzi scheme and masterminded decades of lies. Chin sentenced him to 150 years in prison, a true lifetime term more typical of the sentences imposed on the worst mobsters and violent criminals.
“One hundred and fifty years made me feel really good that for the first time, the government came down on our side and did the right thing,” said Michael DeVita, a Madoff investor from Chalfont, Pennsylvania, after Chin handed down the sentence.
Five former Madoff employees were convicted in 2014 on charges of aiding the massive scam. In that case, a sixth former employee served as the government’s chief witness after confessing his own involvement.
Madoff has spent most of his sentence at a federal prison and medical center in Butner, North Carolina, as inmate register number 61727-054. His fellow inmates have included the late Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric convicted in a 1990s terror plot to bomb the World Trade Center andlandmarks around New York City.
Seeking ‘compassionate release’:Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff says he’s dying, seeks release from 150-year prison term
In recent months, Madoff has been confined to a wheelchair. He suffers shortness of breath that requires him to be hooked up to oxygen at night. And he has cardiovascular disease, according to the motion for release filed by attorney Brandon Sample.
Madoff was admitted to a comfort care unit at the prison in July. After initially refusing dialysis, the blood-filtering procedure commonly prescribed for kidney-failure patients, he agreed to start the treatment in December, the court filing said.
“The nature of Mr. Madoff’s serious medical conditions coupled with the effects of incarceration will only cause his overall physical condition to worsen as his illnesses progress and his death becomes ever more inevitable,” Sample wrote.
While stressing that Madoff doesn’t dispute “the severity of his crimes” or “seek to minimize the suffering of his victims,” the filing argued the convicted scammer’s conditions meet the guidelines for compassionate release.
Sample filed the motion with the court after the U.S. Bureau of Prisons rejected Madoff’s September request for administrative release. The decision said setting Madoff free “would minimize the severity of his offense.”
Chin’s decision represents Madoff’s last chance for end-of-life freedom, Sample wrote. He noted that Scotland granted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi compassionate release after he developed terminal prostate cancer.
Sample also cited the example of Bernard Ebbers, the former chief executive of the WorldCom telecommunications company that went bankrupt in 2002. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for an estimated $11 billion accounting fraud.
A Manhattan federal court judge granted Ebbers compassionate release in December, based on his age and deteriorating health. Ebbers died Feb. 2 at age 78.
“When this court sentenced Bernard Madoff it was clear that Madoff’s 150-year prison sentence was symbolic for three reasons: retribution, deterrence, and for the victims,” Sample wrote in the motion for release. “This court must now consider whether keeping Madoff incarcerated, in light of his terminal kidney failure and a life expectancy of less than 18 months, is truly in furtherance of statutory sentencing goals and our society’s value and understanding of compassion.”