NEWS & ANALYSIS

Notorious Ponzi Schemer Bernie Madoff Dies in Federal Prison


Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind the biggest investment fraud scheme in American history, died in prison Wednesday at the age of 82. 

Madoff was serving a 150-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, where he was being treated for what his attorney called terminal kidney disease. Because of his condition, he requested compassionate release in June but was denied. 

His sentence began in 2009, when he pleaded guilty to a multi-billion dollar scheme that started in the early 1970s and defrauded as many as 37,000 people in 136 different countries. 

Some of his most famous victims included director Steven Spielberg, actor Kevin Bacon, former New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel. 

After four decades of scheming, Madoff was busted on December 11, 2008 when his two sons – who were at one point involved – turned him in. 

Madoff insisted the fraud didn’t begin until the early 1990s, when “the market stalled due to the onset of the recession and the Gulf War.” 

On March 12, 2009, he pleaded guilty to 11 federal crimes and confessed to operating the largest Ponzi scheme ever. He was sentenced three months later to 150 years in prison with restitution of $170 billion 

In a 2013 email to CNBC from prison, he claimed the break in the market led to his scam. 

“I thought this would be only a short-term trade which could be made up once the market became receptive,” he wrote. “The rest is my tragic history of never being able to recover.” 

When Madoff asked for his prison release, he was in the end stages of kidney disease. 

“You know there hasn’t been a day in prison that I haven’t felt the guilt for the pain I caused on the victims and for my family,” he told the Washington Post. 

“You know I lost both my sons, and my wife is not really well. So it’s horrible. I was very close with my family. I made a terrible mistake. And you know I suffer with it. I’ll suffer with it when I get out.” 

But, he never did. 

For more than 50 years, Madoff was renowned on Wall Street. He founded his own firm at the ripe age of 22 and became non-executive chairman of the Nasdaq in 1990. He also helped develop some of the systems and market structures that moved the stock market beyond the trading floor, CNBC reports. 

Brandon Sample, Madoff’s attorney, said that his client “up until his death, lived with guilt and remorse for his crimes.” 

“Although the crimes Bernie was convicted of have come to define who he was – he was also a father and a husband. He was soft spoken and an intellectual. Bernie was by no means perfect. But no man is,” he added.