Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff heard scorn from his victims on Monday at a sentencing hearing at which he will learn his punishment for running Wall Street's biggest and most brazen investment fraud.
Emotional victims asked Judge Denny Chin to impose the maximum sentence of 150 years, an effective life term for the 71-year-old Madoff.
How could somebody do this to us? How could this be real? We did nothing wrong, said Dominic Ambrosino, a retired New York City corrections officer. We will have to sell our home and hope to survive on Social Security alone.
Madoff, seated next to his lawyers, lowered his eyes as his victims told their stories of financial ruin.
May your jail cell be your coffin, Michael Schwartz told Madoff.
You have left your children with a legacy of shame, said Tom FitzMaurice, 63, calling Madoff an evil low-life.
He has shown no remorse ... His crime was premeditated and calculated. He was planning to scam investors days before his arrest. If he could, he would still be stealing from investors, FitzMaurice said.
He cheated investors out of money so that he had his wife Ruth and two sons could live a life of luxury, he said.
The confessed swindler, who pleaded guilty to a slew of crimes in the same court in March, will speak to the shame he has felt and to the pain he has caused, said his lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin. In a letter Judge Chin on Sunday, Sorkin argued for a sentence less than the life term requested by U.S. prosecutors.
He disputed the size of the loss to investors, saying it does not appear to rise to the historic proportions that the government has maintained. But Sorkin added that he did not seek to minimize the magnitude of the crimes to which Mr Madoff pled guilty.
Madoff confessed to running a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme in which investors were paid returns from money paid by later investors.
HOW MUCH IS GONE?
Investigators do not know how much was stolen, according to court papers. Prosecutors say $170 billion flowed through the principal Madoff account over decades, and that weeks before the financier's December arrest the firm's statements showed a total of $65 billion in accounts.
The trustee winding down the Madoff firm has so far collected $1.2 billion to return to investors.
Given the enormous amount of funds he has stolen and the number of victims, the sentence is going to be very, very high, said Paul Radvany, a law professor at Fordham University in New York and a former federal prosecutor.
Madoff's brother, Peter, and his sons, Mark and Andrew, held executive positions in the brokerage unit of Madoff's firm. Their lawyers say they were not aware of or involved in the crooked asset management side.
The judge allowed Madoff, a former nonexecutive chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, to wear his own clothes at the sentencing hearing, instead of the loose-fitting uniform issued by the jail where he has been held since March 12. He wore a dark business suit.
Madoff has said all along that he committed the fraud on his own. He has not named any accomplices. The only other person charged is his outside accountant.
Michael Shapiro, a lawyer at law firm Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP, said he expects a prison sentence of 30 years, based on previous sentences for large frauds in the same court.
He cited the case of former WorldCom Chief Executive Bernard Ebbers, who is serving 25 years for accounting fraud in a low-security prison. WorldCom said the fraud amounted to $11 billion.
The individual damage that Madoff caused is probably much greater, Shapiro said. Thirty years is effectively a life sentence and also takes into account he didn't kill anybody.
Madoff will serve his time in a low- or medium-security prison, depending on the length of his incarceration.
The case is USA v Madoff 09-213 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan)
(Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by John Wallace)