Bernie Madoff denied compassionate release from prison

Bob Van Voris

Bernard Madoff, who defrauded investors of more than $19 billion in history’s biggest Ponzi scheme, won’t be released early from his 150-year prison sentence.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan on Thursday rejected Madoff’s request for compassionate release on the grounds that he is terminally ill and likely to die in the next 18 months. After Madoff, 82, submitted his plea for his freedom in February, 520 of his victims wrote to the court, with 96% of them arguing against his early release.

“When I sentenced Mr. Madoff in 2009, it was fully my intent that he live out the rest of his life in prison,” Chin said in his ruling. “Nothing has happened in the 11 years since to change my thinking.”

In this March 10, 2009, file photo, former financier Bernie Madoff exits federal court in Manhattan, in New York.

The tough line against Madoff comes as other white-collar criminals have been granted early release or home confinement because of the risk they might contract coronavirus in prison. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his onetime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen were allowed to complete their respective sentences for bank fraud and violating campaign finance law at home.

Madoff, who has served just 10 years of his sentence, had said he suffers from terminal kidney failure and other ailments.

“While Mr. Madoff’s present medical situation is most unfortunate, compassionate release is not warranted,” Chin said.

Madoff’s lawyer, Brandon Sample, noted that Chin accepted that Madoff was terminally ill. “Nonetheless, Judge Chin essentially found that because of the nature of Madoff’s crimes – Madoff is beyond redemption,” Sample said. “We are disappointed with Judge Chin’s refusal to grant Madoff any compassion. Our only hope now is that President Trump will show mercy to Madoff by granting a sentence commutation.”

Madoffis, who serving his time at a federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina, requested that the president commute his sentence last July.

Trump signed in December 2018 the First Step Act, which allows judges to grant compassionate release to elderly inmates in failing health. WorldCom Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bernard Ebbers, who was convicted in 2005 of securities fraud following the telecom giant’s collapse, was granted release under the law in December after serving around 13 years of his 25-year sentence. He died on Feb. 2 at age 78.

Last July, Raj Rajaratnam, 62, co-founder of Galleon Group LLC and the mastermind of what prosecutors said was one of the largest hedge-fund insider-trading rings in U.S. history, was released two years before the completion of his 11-year sentence under the First Step law.

Life Savings

But the scale of Madoff’s crimes always made compassion a long shot. Investors lost more than $19 billion in principal when his firm ran out of money in December 2008, unable to raise enough cash from new investors to meet withdrawal demands. Madoff’s victims included thousands of wealthy investors, Jewish charities, celebrities and retirees, many of whom lost their life savings. A trustee appointed to recover money for Madoff’s victims says they’ve been repaid some $12.9 billion, as of January.

“While I would never wish dying in jail on anyone, it is hard to imagine a less sympathetic non-violent offender than Bernard Madoff,” Matthew Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor on the case, said at the time Madoff made his request. “His tens of thousands of victims still continue to feel the profound and devastating harm from his decades-long fraud to this day.”

The case is U.S. v. Madoff, 09-cr-00213, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).