Madoff gets 150 years for 'extraordinarily evil' crime
The harsh sentence is meant to send a message, but is that necessary?
Mr. Madoffâ€™s sentence, delivered by a federal court in New York, is six times longer than what was meted out to the top executives of WorldCom and Enron Corp. â€“ two of the notable recent financial scandals.
Some lawyers praise Judge Denny Chinâ€™s decision Monday as an important symbolic show of justice. Others criticize it as â€śabsurdâ€ť given Madoffâ€™s advanced age. But many of his victims simply welcomed it as a relief.
â€śI cried when I heard it, I felt justice had been done,â€ť says Karen Audet, a retired school teacher from Ft. Lauderdale,Fla., who lost her $225,000 pension in an investment fund organized by a member of her church, who had invested it with Madoffâ€™s company.
In March, the New York and Palm Beach-based swindler pleaded guilty to a laundry list of fraud charges in what could amount to a $65 billion swindle of wealthy friends and associates, other investment firms, and some internationally-known philanthropies.
At Madoffâ€™s sentencing Monday, Judge Chin said â€śsymbolismâ€ť was important to â€śdeter future crimesâ€ť but also as â€śretribution.â€ť
â€śThe message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil, and 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,â€ť Chin told the courtroom. Madoff showed no emotion, but had earlier told some of his victims gathered in the court room that he lived â€śin a tormented state now, knowing all the pain and suffering I've created."
After the sentencing, his wife Ruth issued a statement saying, â€śI am embarrassed and ashamed. Like everyone else, I feel betrayed and confused. The man who committed this horrible fraud is not the man whom I have known for all these years.â€ť
Some lawyers say the judge went too far with the 150-year sentence, as Madoff is already 71.
â€śItâ€™s absurd. On several levels, 150 years is well deserved, if you measure the effect on so many people, including charitable institutions,â€ť says James Cohen, a criminal law professor at Fordham Law School in New York. â€śBut this guy isnâ€™t going to live 150 years. So what is the point? Give him 30 years if you want to make a point that youâ€™ll die in jail if youâ€™re going to engage in this kind of conduct.â€ť
The criminal justice system should not be used for â€śsymbolism,â€ť he added. But other lawyers applaud the judgeâ€™s decision, saying a â€śsymbolic messageâ€ť was warranted.
â€ś[A]ny sentence would effectively amount to a life sentence for him, so it doesnâ€™t matter if the judge imposed 20 years or 200 yearsâ€ť says Robert Mintz, former state prosecutor and a partner at McCarter & English in Newark, N.J. The sentence was "a symbolic gesture to put the crime into context â€“ to make sure that the sentence reflected the judgeâ€™s sense that this was a crime of unprecedented proportions, and thus didnâ€™t warrant a sentence similar to other financial frauds.â€ť
The sentence reflects the courtâ€™s function as â€śteacher,â€ť not just an arbiter of law, say others. The symbolism of the punishment â€śis an attempt to create proportionality â€¦ with the extraordinary depths of the economic hardship that heâ€™s done to so many people,â€ť says Robert Muldoon, a partner with Sherin & Lodgen in Boston. â€śJudges often use this kind of thing as an educational tool. It wasnâ€™t just vengeance.â€ť
Ms. Audet, the retired school teacher, is helping to raise one of her grandchildren and has a son with a serious medical condition who needs help. As a result of her loss, her husband has had to put off retirement.
But she says she will do her best to forgive Madoff, despite the anguish she feels â€śeach time I have to write a check.â€ť
â€śI can forgive, I will have to forgive because of my faith,â€ť she says. â€śI canâ€™t keep holding on to this thing. I have very strong faith that God will provide.â€ť
â€˘ Information from the AP was used in this report.