Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges he orchestrated the biggest financial swindle in Wall Street history, cheating investors out of billions of dollars in a fraud that has drawn public scorn and demands for stricter regulations.

The gray-haired 70-year-old Madoff stated guilty when asked by a federal judge to enter a plea on 11 criminal charges. The crimes could land the disgraced money manager and former Nasdaq stock market chairman in prison for the rest of his life.

Victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme, which took in as much as $65 billion over two decades before the 2008 market meltdown, have been invited to speak later at the hearing in Manhattan.

Madoff, in pleading guilty, admitted to securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, false statements, perjury, false filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and theft from an employee benefit plan.

His investors included hedge funds, banks, Jewish charities, the wealthy and small individual investors in North and South America and Europe.

Presiding Judge Denny Chin is due to sentence Madoff at a later date.

(Writing by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Brian Moss)