Ding dong, Bernie Madoff is dead — or he may as well be. The man who pleaded guilty in March to running one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in the history of Wall Street has been sentenced to a staggering 150 years in jail.
Sentencing Judge Denny Chin has called Madoff’s crimes “extraordinarily evil,” saying that “this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll.”
In a conning career that spanned more than 20 years, the 71-year-old roscoe managed to steal US$65 billion ($80 billion) from a series of millionaires, private foundations, a Nobel Laureate and hundreds of small investors.
And boy, were they angry. Here’s what one victim, Sharon Lissauer, had to say to the New York Times:
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“He should spend his whole life in jail. He’s ruined so many people’s lives. He killed my spirit and shattered my dreams.”
Another told the ABC’s John Shovelan that Madoff would “join those other people who are in the mouths of Satan”.
Not so, says Mansfield Frazier on The Daily Beast – Madoff will be treated as nothing less than “prison royalty”. Frazier reckons he should know, having done a bit of hard time himself:
“The more opprobrium heaped on him on the outside, the more venerated he’ll be on the inside. Why? Because he screwed the type of people whom his future prisonmates feel they’ve been screwed by all their lives. He’ll be regarded as a felonious Robin Hood … Hell, it might even grant him the supreme honorific of “O.G.””
So if the OG (ie original gangster) himself doesn’t have too much to worry about, should we perhaps spare a thought for the beleaguered Mrs Madoff?
The poor dear is expected to live off a mere US$2.5 million ($3 million), following a settlement with the Justice Department. But if she pinches her pennies a little, the Wall Street Journal’s Brett Arends reckons she might just make it through:
“…a conservative investment portfolio may only earn about 3% a year over inflation. At that rate, and if Mrs Madoff wants to make sure she doesn’t outlive her money, her $2.5 million settlement should give her an annual income of maybe $125,000 a year. That would make the money last all the way to age 100.
The irony, of course, is that Mrs Madoff really needs right now a financial adviser she can trust to handle her money.”
Mrs Madoff aside, it’s clear the majority of the victims have gone through a fair bit – life savings have been lost, second and third jobs have been taken up by fleeced investors struggling to stay afloat – but not everyone’s feeling sympathetic. The NYT’s Joe Nocera wants to issue a big ol’ “suck it up” to all involved:
“Why should my tax dollars go to helping Madoff victims? This is not 9/11. Besides, as I’ve argued before, the [US Securities and Exchange Commission’s] negligence notwithstanding, shouldn’t the Madoff victims have to bear at least some responsibility for their own gullibility?”
You could be forgiven for thinking Madoff’s sentencing marks the whole sorry saga as over, but as HuffPo’s Jill Schlesinger points out, it’s unlikely Madoff acted alone (indeed, his accountant was charged with fraud back in March):
“Didn’t anyone at the broker-dealer notice that that there were no trades going through? Could the compliance officer have “missed” so many red flags? Did anyone consider the absurdity that Madoff never showed one single month of losses?”
But even if these hypothetical helpers are never punished, and Madoff’s victims never see a cent of their money returned, there is a rainbow at the end of this particular storm: some lucky bastard has scored Bernie’s Mets season tickets on eBay, for the bargain price of US$38,100 ($47,000).
For that kind of money, you’d be hoping the guy’s tickets turn out to be more authentic than his investments.