Careful to blame only himself, a "deeply sorry and ashamed" Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to pulling off what could be the biggest, most spectacular swindle Wall Street has even seen, and was sent off to jail in handcuffs to the applause of his furious victims.
"I realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come," Madoff said in a courtroom crammed with many of the investors he cheated out of billions of dollars.
The 70-year-old financier could get up to 150 years in prison at sentencing June 16 on 11 counts, including securities fraud and perjury. He could also be fined and ordered to pay restitution to his victims and forfeit any ill-gotten gains.
Madoff arriving at court (Photo: AFP)
In a long, detailed statement delivered in a soft but steady voice, Madoff implicated no one but himself in the vast Ponzi scheme. He said he started it as a short-term way to weather the early-1990s recession and was unable to extricate himself as the years went by.
"I am actually grateful for this opportunity to publicly comment about my crimes, for which I am deeply sorry and ashamed," Madoff said in his first public comments about his crimes since the $65 billion scandal broke in early December.
The scandal turned a well-respected investment professional — Madoff was once chairman of the Nasdaq exchange — into a symbol of Wall Street greed amid the economic meltdown. The public fury toward him was so great that he was known to wear a bulletproof vest to court.
Investor: I'd stone him to death
US District Judge Denny Chin promptly revoked the $10 million bail that had allowed Madoff to remain free since he confessed to his sons three months ago. In ordering him jailed, the judge said Madoff had the means to flee and an incentive to do so because of his age.
The court appearance came as a disappointment to many of Madoff's investors, who hoped to hear him say who might have helped him pull off the scam, and where the money went.
Because Madoff pleaded guilty as charged, without any kind of deal with prosecutors, he is under no obligation to cooperate with them. As a result, some legal experts and others have speculated that he is sacrificing himself to protect his wife, his family and friends.
"He's trying to save the rest of his family," said investor Judith Welling. "We need to find out who else was involved, and we need, obviously, to freeze the assets of all those people involved to help the victims."
There was a smattering of applause after the judge announced Madoff would go directly to jail — the drab, windowless high-rise Metropolitan Correctional Center next door to the courthouse to await sentencing. But that did not lessen his victims' anger or satisfy their desire for retribution.
"So he spends the rest of his life in jail — is that justice? People's lives are ruined," said Adriane Biondo of Los Angeles, one of five members of her family who lost money with Madoff. "He's sitting in jail? That's awesome," she said sarcastically. "Where's the money, Bernie?"
DeWitt Baker, an investor who attended the hearing and said he lost more than $1 million with Madoff, said: "I'd stone him to death."