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29 Jun, 2009 23:03

Master swindler Madoff gets 150 years

American financier Bernard Madoff has been sentenced to 150 years behind bars by a New York court for masterminding a massive fraud that robbed investors of $65 billion.

As the sentence was announced, cheers and applause erupted from the crowded Manhattan courtroom, which was filled with victims of the biggest Ponzi scheme in modern history.

The sentencing hearing of a former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange received huge media and public attention. On Sunday, the area outside of the courtroom was packed with people and TV news trucks awaiting the verdict.

Madoff stole billions of dollars from thousands of people by paying off old investors with new investors’ cash.

Hollywood celebrities also fell victim to his scams. Among them were film director Steven Spielberg and actors Kevin Bacon and John Malkovich. But it is the common Americans whohave lost everything.

US District Judge Denny Chin handed down the maximum sentence to the 71-year-old mastermind of a record Wall Street deceit.

"Here the 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," the judge said.

Chin said the estimate that Madoff had cost his victims more than $13 billion was conservative because it did not include money from feeder funds.

Up until the sentencing decision was read, the defendant must have been optimistic and did not expect to spend the rest of his life in prison, as his lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, was pushing for a 12-year sentence. The probation department had recommended a 50-year term.

However, the victims and the prosecution wanted full revenge, and demanded 150 years. The sentence came after a 90 minute hearing in which 11 of those whose lives were affected by Madoff’s fraud were allowed to speak about the damage he had done to them.

Madoff told the court "I'm responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain, I understand that."

"I live in a tormented state now, knowing all of the pain and suffering that I've created,” he said. “I've left a legacy of shame, as some of my victims have pointed out, to my family and my grandchildren."

Nevertheless, the victims did not seem to be relieved after the sentence was announced. It is perhaps not so surprising, since many of them still will not get their money back. Officials say it's too late and much of the money is already gone.

“He took away my ability to pay my rent, to eat,” Miriam Siegman told reporters after leaving the courtroom. “I’m on food stamps now.”

“A 150 years sentence is symbolic,” added Richard Friedman, another deceived investor. “What Madoff did was the ultimate crime, financially speaking, and he should receive the ultimate prison sentence.”

Notably, the court did not get a single letter from family or friends testifying to Madoff’s good deeds.

Madoff launched a Wall Street company, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, in 1960, when he was only 22. He remained the firm’s chairman for decades until last December, when he was arrested.