Accused swindler Bernard Madoff took the first public step to pleading guilty to criminal charges of masterminding Wall Street's biggest fraud, according to court papers on Friday.
A document filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said U.S. prosecutors intend to file a criminal information in their case against Madoff upon the defendant's waiver of an indictment.
A hearing was scheduled on the charges for March 12, said a clerk in the court of U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, who was assigned the case.
Typically in white collar crime cases in the United States, such an information document indicates a defendant is expected to plead guilty, sometimes to the original charge or new charges. Madoff is the only person charged in the case.
Prosecutors have until March 13 to indict once-respected Wall Street trader and investment manager Madoff or reach a plea agreement.
The document filed on Friday speaks for itself, said Daniel Horwitz, one of Madoff's attorneys.
Authorities said Madoff confessed in December to running a giant Ponzi scheme with losses of as much as $50 billion. A Ponzi scheme is one in which early investors are paid with the money of new clients.
Banks, wealthy investors, small investors and charities all over the world said they were bilked by Madoff.
This is the first step in order to enter a plea agreement, said Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, and a former federal prosecutor. Most plea agreements are done by a criminal information rather than an indictment.
Madoff was arrested and charged with one count of securities fraud on December 11 and faces up to 20 years in jail. He was 70 years old at the time of his arrest and could spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the meantime, he is out on $10 million bail and under house arrest in his luxury New York apartment and 24-hour surveillance.
Meanwhile, a hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday over a potential conflict of interest for Ira Sorkin, one of Madoff's lawyers.
(Reporting by Grant McCool and Martha Graybow; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Andre Grenon)