Bernard Madoff sentenced to maximum 150 years

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 a repeat of crimes that have ripped confidence in financial institutions and government's regulatory abilities, 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.

>>Click here to see the latest photos of Bernard and Ruth Madoff, in and out of court

>>Photos of Bernard Madoff's victims

The sentence reflected prosecution arguments that Madoff was unrepentant, making last-ditch efforts to put his interests before his clients' as federal authorities were breathing down on him. Prosecutors yesterday said he was preparing to funnel $173 million to his family, friends and favorite investors just before his arrest, and Chin noted that Madoff had put $15 million in his wife's accounts.

"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."

After the sentencing, Madoff's wife, Ruth Madoff, released a statement through her attorney Peter Chavkin, saying she was "embarrassed and ashamed."

"Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused. The man who committed this horrible crime is not the man whom I have known all these years.

Nothing I can say seems sufficient regarding the daily suffering of all those innocent people. . . . Not a day goes by that I don't ache over the stories that I've read and heard."

Bernard 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 and called the recommended 150-year sentence "absurd."

"Vengeance is not the goal," Sorkin said.

Madoff victim Dominic Ambrosino, a former New York City corrections officer, told the court he and his wife, Ronnie Sue, lost all their savings by investing with Madoff.

The feeling of losing it all is "truly unlike anything you can ever describe," Ambrosino said.

The couple had sold their Bay Shore house and bought a motor home and had been traveling for the past four years until December. Friends have been letting them park on their properties for the summer and stay in their homes while they were gone on vacation, but the couple doesn't know where they will live after August.

"If I should die, my wife would be left without my money," Ambrosino said.

Ambrosino, 48, said the "most devastating" part of the ordeal was losing their freedom and "time to hold our hands as we walk."

Of Madoff, he said, "We know he'll be in prison much the same way as he imprisoned us." He added, "I would like someone in the court today to tell us: How long is my sentence?"

In court, Lissauer said: "It's been a nightmare. I think I'm going to wake up, but it keeps getting worse. I was always so careful with my money. I entrusted everything to Mr. Madoff."

She said that included inheritance money and money she earned from modeling. She asked Madoff's family and lawyers to keep searching for funds to re-pay victims "so they can have a little of their life back."

"You killed my spirit and shattered my dreams," Lissauer said. "For the first time in my life, I am very, very frightened of the future."

Bert Ross told the court he had lost $5 million. He broke down in tears as he spoke.

"I lost my retirement accounts and funds entrusted to my children," Ross said.

Michael Schwartz, 33, said he had been putting money into a Madoff fund since he was a teenager. A month ago, he said, he was laid off from his job.

"Part of that money was set aside to take care of my brother who is disabled and lives with my parents and who will need medical care for the rest of his life," Schwartz said.

Before the sentencing, a crowd gathered outside the U.S. District courthouse in lower Manhattan. Reporters, television cameras and trucks with satellite dishes lined both sides of Worth Street, clogging traffic.

Richard Friedman, 59, of Jericho, who has said he lost his life savings to Madoff, was among those outside the courthouse Monday morning. Friedman said he is now focusing solely on trying to get his money back, urging the Securities Investor Protection Corp. to help him and others.

"The key issue is SIPC now following its own laws," said Friedman. "To me, Mr. Madoff is irrelevant. The length of his sentence doesn't affect my life one way or another."

Before the sentencing, legal observers said a 12-year sentence was unlikely given the severity of the losses and public clamor for justice. Friday, prosecutors filed papers asking Chin to hit Madoff with 150 years or a life term.

In papers filed late Sunday, Sorkin asked the court to take into account that the trustee acting to recover funds in the case has found assets of $1.3 billion, has sued for $10 billion, and will attempt to recover hundreds of millions from money paid to investors.

As for Madoff's future, Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said it takes about a week after a defendant is sentenced for officials to designate a prison assignment. While the length of the sentence is one factor, officials also look at the nature of the offense and whether a defendant is considered dangerous or likely to cause problems.

Madoff has no prior criminal record.

Madoff victims who have written Chin said they hoped the court would send the swindler to a prison far away from his New York City-based family. But while a judge's recommendation is given some weight, it is up to the prison bureau to decide where an inmate gets placed, Ponce said.

Investor Phyllis Feiner of Great Neck wrote in a letter to Chin that Madoff destroyed her family's savings, and compromised her health and that of her husband, Harvey, due to stress.

"Our comfort zone has been destroyed by Bernard Madoff," wrote Feiner.

On Monday, investors planned to hold a rally at the entrance to Thomas Paine Park in the middle of Foley Square. They will speak in front of a reflecting pool and black granite abstract sculpture that appears to reach for the sky.

The sign on the sculpture says it is named Triumph of the Human Spirit.

>>Click here to see the latest photos of Bernard and Ruth Madoff, in and out of court

>>Photos of Bernard Madoff's victims

Newsday staff writers Anthony M. DeStefano, John Valenti, Kathleen Kerr, Keiko Morris and Emi Endo contributed to this story.

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