NEW YORK (AP) — Bernard Madoff, the infamous architect of an epic securities swindle that burned thousands of investors, outfoxed regulators and earned him a 150-year prison term, died behind bars early Wednesday. He was 82.
Madoff’s death at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, was confirmed by his lawyer and the Bureau of Prisons.
Last year, Madoff’s lawyers unsuccessfully asked a court to release him from prison during the coronavirus pandemic, saying he suffered from end-stage renal disease and other chronic medical conditions.
One of those lawyers, Brandon Sample, said on Wednesday it was believed Madoff died from natural causes related to his failing health.
For decades, Madoff enjoyed an image as a self-made financial guru whose Midas touch defied market fluctuations. A former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, he attracted a devoted legion of investment clients — from Florida retirees to celebrities such as film director Steven Spielberg, actor Kevin Bacon and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.
But his investment advisory business was exposed in 2008 as a Ponzi scheme that wiped out people’s fortunes and ruined charities. He became so hated he wore a bulletproof vest to court.
The fraud was believed to be the largest in Wall Street’s history.
Over the years, court-appointed trustees laboring to unwind the scheme have recovered more than $14 billion of an estimated $17.5 billion investors put into Madoff’s business. At the time of Madoff’s arrest, fake account statements were telling clients they had holdings worth $60 billion.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to securities fraud and other charges, saying he was “deeply sorry and ashamed.”
After several months living under house arrest at his $7 million Manhattan penthouse apartment, he was led off to jail in handcuffs to scattered applause from angry investors in the courtroom.
“He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between. He had no values,” former investor Tom Fitzmaurice told the judge at the sentencing. “He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife … could live a life of luxury beyond belief.”
Sample said in a statement that the financier had “lived with guilt and remorse for his crimes” up until his death.
“Although the crimes Bernie was convicted of have come to define who he was — he was also a father and a husband. He was soft spoken and an intellectual. Bernie was by no means perfect. But no man is,” the lawyer said.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin sentenced Madoff to the maximum possible term.
“Here, the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of irresponsible manipulation of the system is not merely a bloodless financial crime that takes place just on paper, but it is instead … one that takes a staggering human toll,” Chin said.
A judge issued a forfeiture order stripping Madoff of all his personal property, including real estate, investments, and $80 million in assets his wife, Ruth, had claimed were hers. The order left her with $2.5 million.
The scandal also exacted a personal toll on the family: One of his sons, Mark, killed himself on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest in 2010. Madoff’s brother, Peter, who helped run the business, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012, despite claims he was in the dark about his brother’s misdeeds.
Madoff’s other son, Andrew, died from cancer at age 48. Ruth is still living.
Jerry Reisman, an attorney for about three dozen Madoff victims, said he’d spoken to several after Madoff’s death.
“Some of them are saying they’re enjoying this day,” he said. “No one sees this as a great loss. No one is going to mourn Bernie Madoff. They are happy they have survived him.”
Madoff was born in 1938 in a lower-middle-class Jewish neighborhood in Queens. In the financial world, the story of his rise to prominence — how he left for Wall Street with Peter in 1960 with a few thousand dollars saved from working as a lifeguard and installing sprinklers — became legend.
“They were two struggling kids from Queens. They worked hard,” said Thomas Morling, who worked closely with the Madoff brothers in the mid-1980s setting up and running computers that made their firm a trusted leader in off-floor trading.
“When Peter or Bernie said something that they were going to do, their word was their bond,” Morling…