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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Bitter Madoff Bemoans Fate

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Convicted con man Bernie Madoff may be gone, but he’s far from forgotten. Speaking by phone from federal prison in Butner, N.C., to the New York Times recently, Madoff offered his first comments about the judge and the sentence, which happened two years ago on Wednesday.

Madoff said he believed that Judge Denny Chin went along with “the mob psychology of the time.”

“Explain to me who else has received a sentence like that,” Madoff told the paper. “I mean, serial killers get a death sentence, but that’s virtually what he gave me.”

“I’m surprised Chin didn’t suggest stoning in the public square,” he added.

The Times piece goes into detail about the reasons for Madoff’s 150-year sentence, and conducts extensive interviews with Chin about his thinking at the time.

Madoff’s lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, requested a sentence of 12 years, citing mortality data that showed his client could expect to live about 13 more years at the time of his incarceration. He reasoned the 12 years would therefore be just shy of an "effective life sentence," suggesting Madoff might be allowed a year of freedom before he died.

“It’s a fair argument that you want to give someone some possibility of seeing the light of day,” the judge said, “so that they have some hope, and something to live for.”

“And,” he added, “that was one of the struggles in Madoff.”

Chin said it didn't take him long to decide against a 12-year sentence for Madoff. He even decided that 20 to 25 years “would have been just way too low.”

As The Times notes, Chin would impose a term of 150 years on Madoff, a sentence that generated as much discussion as any white-collar crime sentence. 

When considering the sentence, Chin said he pondered how best to articulate the message he wanted to send. The court’s probation department had recommended a 50-year term, while the government had requested 150 years.

Chin used the nearly 500 emails he received from victims of Madoff to take notes as he considered writing his opinion. Highlights The Times noted include:

“Not just the wealthy or institutional clients.”

“Middle-class folks, elderly, retirees.”

“Not just money: It reaches to the core and affects your general faith in humanity, our government and basic trust in our financial system.”

“The loss of dignity, the loss of freedom from financial worry.”

One email in particular touched Chin, he told The Times. It was from a widow who died two weeks after investing all his money with Madoff. The widow wrote that Madoff personally assured her that he would take care of her money. 

Finally, Chin said the fact that no one came forward to speak on behalf of Madoff was "telling."


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