Scores of Bernard Madoff's victims jammed the U.S. District Court in Manhattan for his guilty plea yesterday, ready to vent about a man whose Ponzi scheme shattered lives getting bail to live in a luxury apartment.
But as it turned out, it wasn't necessary.
Instead, after taking Madoff's plea, Judge Denny Chin peremptorily announced he planned to revoke Madoff's bail and send him to prison immediately. He asked if any victims wanted to object. There were no takers - just a ripple of laughter from the crowd.
That reaction reflected the satisfaction many victims felt as Madoff was led out of the 24th-floor courtroom in handcuffs.
"We're not destitute, but many of the victims are destitute," said Ilene Kent, a Manhattan paralegal whose parents lost money in Madoff's scheme. "They don't know where they're going to live next. So it just wasn't right for him to be in a penthouse."
But while everyone seemed happy to have Madoff behind bars, Chin did hear some complaints about the guilty plea itself from victims who were worried that the lack of a trial and the fraudster's refusal to admit that he conspired with others might cut off accountability for his crimes.
"I believe you have the opportunity to find out where the money is and who else was involved," investor Ronnie Sue Ambrosino, a retiree from Arizona who has said she lost $1.6 million, told Chin. "If you can't get those two pieces of information, I object to the pleas."
"If we go to trial, we will show the world . . . that we hold all people accountable," another victim, Maureen Ebel, told the judge. "We can hear and bear witness to the pain Mr. Madoff has inflicted on the young, the old and the infirm."
"I know his operation was massive, that he didn't commit these crimes alone," said another investor, George Nierenberg. "I don't know why conspiracy was not part of his plea."
Nierenberg, during his remarks, turned to Madoff - surrounded by his lawyers at a table a few feet away - and began to chastise him: "I don't know if you had a chance to turn around and look at the victims."
A marshal began to rise to his feet and Nierenberg was immediately warned by Chin to address the bench, but Nierenberg wasn't the only one unpersuaded by Madoff's expressions of regret and shame in his statement to the judge.
"I think he's just sorry he got caught," said Kent.
"I don't think a man like that has any remorse," said Bennett Goldsmith, a real estate executive with the Corcoran Group, who said he lost millions in the Madoff scam. "He's a psychopath."