March 11, 2009 | 7:37 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Swindler Bernard Madoff will appear in Federal court Thursday morning in Manhattan, where he will plead guilty to multiple counts of fraud. A Federal judge is expected to sentence Madoff to up a prison sentence of up to 150 years. Here’s the New York Times report on the eve of Bernie’s long goodbye:
March 11, 2009
Madoff Faces Life in Prison for Vast Swindle
By DIANA B. HENRIQUES
Bernard L. Madoff is facing life in prison for operating a vast Ponzi scheme that began at least 20 years ago and consumed billions of dollars of other people’s money.
While his fate will not be certain until he is sentenced, his lawyer told a federal judge on Tuesday that he intended to plead guilty on Thursday to all the criminal charges that federal prosecutors had filed against him — a list that could yield a prison sentence of 150 years.
Mr. Madoff was arrested Dec. 11 at his Manhattan home by federal agents who accused him of running what was perhaps the largest fraud in Wall Street’s history. The scheme zigzagged across the world, drawing in foreign banks, hedge funds, charities, celebrities and ordinary retirees who had entrusted their savings to his investment firm.
The charges, made public late Tuesday, offered a few fresh details about how Mr. Madoff conducted his long-running fraud. And they raised its price tag from his own estimate of $50 billion to nearly $65 billion, the total amount that thousands of customers were told they had in their accounts at his firm.
But left unanswered were questions about the involvement of family members and employees and the treatment of favored investors.
To sustain his fraud, prosecutors said, Mr. Madoff assembled an ill-trained and inexperienced clerical staff, directed them to “generate false and fraudulent documents,” told lies and supplied false records to regulators, and shuffled hundreds of millions of dollars from bank to bank to create the illusion of active trading. The government said Mr. Madoff ordered multimillion-dollar bank transfers in part “to give the appearance that he was conducting securities transactions in Europe on behalf of the investors, when, in fact, he was not.”
And, in an accusation that extends his crime’s shadow to the edges of the business where his brother and sons worked, prosecutors accused Mr. Madoff of using some of the money he gathered through his Ponzi scheme to support the supposedly legitimate wholesale stock trading operation that made his name on Wall Street.
Specifically, prosecutors said that Mr. Madoff “caused more than $250 million” he collected through his Ponzi scheme from at least 2002 through 2008 “to be directed, through a series of wire transfers, to the operating accounts that funded the operations of these businesses.”
The government also charged that he had money transferred from his firm’s London office “to purchase property and services for the personal use and benefit” of himself, his family members and his associates.
Finally, prosecutors said that Mr. Madoff — whose investors prized his steady single-digit annual returns — actually had promised select clients extraordinarily high returns, as much as 46 percent, to lure them in.
In all, Mr. Madoff was charged with 11 felony counts, including securities fraud, money laundering and perjury. Under federal sentencing guidelines, those crimes would yield a life sentence for the 70-year-old trader.
As that sentence suggests, Lev L. Dassin, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan, emphasized that prosecutors did not negotiate an agreement that traded Mr. Madoff’s guilty plea for more lenient treatment.
Moreover, Mr. Dassin disclosed that the government intended to seek at least $170 billion in forfeited assets from Mr. Madoff, a remarkable figure that apparently counts all the money that moved through Madoff bank accounts during the years of the fraud as the proceeds of illegal activities.
Although the forfeiture laws allow the government to seize any property it can trace as the proceeds of illegal activity, investigators have so far found no sign that Mr. Madoff or anyone connected with his business has anything like that amount of money.
And Mr. Madoff’s lawyers have filed a letter with the court disputing that outsize figure, saying it represents all the money ever deposited in Madoff bank accounts over the years without distinguishing either legitimate business operations or the billions that were paid out to investors as part of the Ponzi scheme.
Mr. Dassin said on Tuesday that his staff was still unraveling the fraud to determine who besides Mr. Madoff might have helped keep it running. “The filing of these charges does not end the matter,” Mr. Dassin said in a statement.
But as the criminal case against Mr. Madoff moved toward a resolution, Judge Denny Chin of Federal District Court said on Tuesday that it was not yet time for the court to hear from those who say they were defrauded.
Mr. Madoff has been free on $10 million bail, but confined to his apartment, since his arrest in December. It is not clear whether the government will seek to have his bail revoked if he pleads guilty on Thursday.
If Mr. Madoff does plead guilty, the judge cautioned, he will not be sentenced for several months, giving his victims ample time to submit their comments to the court and ask to be heard.
Dozens of private messages have already reached the court, many of them echoing a letter from a California man who urged the judge to jail Mr. Madoff “for the rest of his life, in conditions that are worthy of someone who has destroyed and raped so many people.”
Alexandra Penney, one of Mr. Madoff’s victims in New York, said she was still dissatisfied with the information that had come out about his crime. “He is gaming the system once again,” she said. “We know nothing — all he has given up is his disgusting, loathsome self.”
As Ms. Penney noted, despite the fresh details in the formal charges, substantial questions remain unanswered.
The government accuses Mr. Madoff of assembling an inexperienced staff to generate “false and fraudulent documents” for customers, but it does not indicate whether those staff members were aware of Mr. Madoff’s allegedly fraudulent activity.
Marc L. Mukasey, a lawyer for Frank DiPascali, who oversaw Mr. Madoff’s clerical staff, had no comment on the government’s allegations.
The document also accuses Mr. Madoff of luring new investors by promising some of them returns as high as 46 percent, well above the steady 8 to 10 percent most investors reported. But it does not explain how much those preferred investors may have known about their special status.
The government specifically accuses Mr. Madoff of taking in $10 million from approximately 35 labor union pension plans last September and, rather than investing it, converting the money “to his own use and the use of others” — but then does not identify the “others,” even in general terms.
The government has still given no indication of whether any members of Mr. Madoff’s family knew about his fraud or participated in it. Lawyers for those relatives have all said their clients did not know about the scam until Mr. Madoff’s confession — and, indeed, most of them lost millions of dollars entrusted to him.
But the document released on Tuesday does confirm the unyielding arithmetic that has wiped out so much wealth and created such hardship for those who trusted Mr. Madoff.
At the end of November, Mr. Madoff had 4,800 client accounts that were supposed to contain a total of $64.8 billion in customer savings. In fact, the government said, Mr. Madoff’s spurious advisory business “held only a small fraction of that balance.”
William K. Rashbaum and Zachery Kouwe contributed reporting.
The Times also has an excellent Q & A with the implications of the sentencing, including insights into what it means for his victims and his immediate family members.
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