Next Monday, Wall Street's biggest and most brazen crook, Bernard Madoff, will leave his jail cell to hear his punishment. But for his victims, even a lifetime in prison may not be enough.
Madoff's clients, who once considered themselves lucky to be part of his seemingly exclusive investment circle, have struggled in the six months since his arrest with lost nest eggs, unpaid bills, anxiety, depression and anger over what they see as an unfair process to try to get any money back.
The courtroom drama is expected to draw many victims, including a few who will describe their financial ruin to the judge. Others plan a rally to publicize their plight, saying they worry they'll be forgotten once Madoff is put in prison.
We don't care about what happens to Madoff, said Laurance Cohen, 79, of Eldorado, New Mexico, who together with his wife Marcia, 78, plan to be outside the Manhattan federal courthouse when the swindler is sentenced.
We just want to get our money back.
For many, there will be no justice until more people they believe were in on the crime join Madoff behind bars. Madoff, 71, has pleaded guilty to running a long-standing Ponzi scheme and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
They also are angry that Madoff's wife, their two sons and his brother, who have not been charged with any wrongdoing in what was a family-run business, do not appear to be suffering like they are.
I think my biggest concern is that, basically, everything has gone according to his plan, said Jen Meerow, a New York resident who lost money to Madoff. It is upsetting to know there are people at all levels of this that are probably going to get away with it.
Meerow, 32, whose parents also were bilked, said she fears Madoff long ago hid cash in anticipation of his arrest.
He knew this day would come, she said. What if he arranged to stash away some money in an offshore account and his children will get it in 20 years?
Madoff is expected to speak at the sentencing hearing and will address the shame he has felt and the pain he has caused, his lawyer said in court papers this week. The swindler has been told of the more than 100 victim letters describing the devastating toll of his fraud, his lawyer said.
Only Madoff and an outside auditor have been charged with criminal wrongdoing tied to the $65 billion scam, although U.S. stock regulators have brought civil fraud charges against several middlemen.
Much of the investors' vitriol has been directed at Madoff's wife, Ruth, who is still living in the couple's four- bedroom Manhattan penthouse. She has argued she should be allowed to keep the apartment plus $62 million in assets she contends are unrelated to her husband's crimes.
She spends most of her time at home and, according to the New York Times, was banned from the exclusive hair salon where she used to get blond highlights. Wiped-out victims say such an inconvenience is hardly equal to what they are enduring.
I do not see his family suffering, investor Rosalind Clark, of San Anselmo, California, wrote to the judge who will sentence Madoff. They are still leading lives of excess.
Madoff's sons, Mark and Andrew, have been sued by employees at the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC brokerage, who said they must have known what their father was doing. The sons' lawyer has said they were not involved in Madoff's asset management business and were shocked to learn of the fraud.
Victims also are angry at how they have been treated. Many were bitter over the public release of their names in court filings connected to the shutdown of Madoff's firm.
They also say they are frustrated by the refund process from an investor protection group compensating customers up to $500,000 each. Some complain the system for calculating losses is arbitrary. Others say they are unjustly shut out of any refunds because they invested through third parties.
The trustee helping to oversee the recovery of assets has said that reconstructing client accounts has been complex and that he is trying to deal with the claims fairly.
Many victims also are frustrated they are viewed as elites who greedily sought out Madoff without asking tough questions about his operation, said Ilene Kent, a New York woman whose parents lost their savings.
The sentencing, Kent said, may revive the horror many felt when they heard last December of Madoff's arrest. After that, she said, they'll go back to dealing with the havoc he caused.
It is going to be very emotional for a lot of people, she said. But it's just the preface of the book, not the end.
The case is USA v Madoff 09-213 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan)
(Reporting by Martha Graybow; editing by Andre Grenon)