Madoff’s Victims Get Their Day in Court

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Ruth visits Bernie in prison, June 1.
Ruth visits Bernie in prison, June 1. Photo: Getty Images

Bernie Madoff will appear in court downtown Monday morning, where he will read an apology, hear statements from eight very angry victims, be photographed from a bad angle many times, and ultimately be handed a prison sentence from judge Denny Chin that could last anywhere from 10 to 150 years. Madoff's last court appearance on March 12, at which he pleaded guilty, was somewhat anticlimactic. Sentencing this time probably won't be the Greatest Depression version of a public stoning, and it won't provide much closure, either — the untangling of Madoff's assets, and lawsuits against him, will likely go on for years — but it should be a little more dramatic. Here's what to expect from the main players, including one victim's preview of his speech.

Bernie Madoff: Bernie's request to wear his own suit was a bad call. He should have gone with the standard prison-issue khaki jumpsuit, because that would make him look frail and vulnerable. Wearing a Savile Row tailored suit that his victims bought is not going to win him any favors, and his blindness to this obvious fact is telling. Madoff has also requested to make a statement, despite the fact that he already said he was "deeply sorry and ashamed" back in March. This could be the last time we hear from Bernie, unless he invites Diane Sawyer into his cell for a one-on-one, but it probably won't be on the level of a killer's confession from Law & Order. After he is taken away, he will be sent back to his cell for about a week while the Bureau of Prison officials assign him to a correctional institution. According to the Journal, he will likely end up at a low- or medium-security prison near New York, like Fort Dix, New Jersey, Otisville, New York, or Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

Ruth Madoff: On Friday, Ruth exchanged her claim to over $80 million worth of assets that were purportedly separate from Bernie's Ponzi loot for just $2.5 million in cash — which could be subject to victim claims. She will stay away from the sentencing, but, according to her lawyer, may release a statement after the fact.

The Sons: In other white-collar cases, family members have come forth to testify to the character of the person being sentenced prior to their crime. Considering Bernie's current relationship with his sons (Andrew reportedly has called the fraud "a father-son betrayal of biblical proportions"), it's unlikely he or his brother Mark will appear in their BLM 1938 sweatshirts to declare him father of the year.

The Extended Family: Nor, we imagine, will the other members of his immediate family: His brother Peter is under investigation, and his sister-in-law Joan, who also lost her savings, apparently told her friends "Let [the judge and prosecutors] do what they want with [Bernie]."

The Victims: The testimony from the eight victims who have elected to address Madoff to his face will probably be the dramatic high point of the day. Real-estate developer Burt Ross waxed literary in the letter he wrote Judge Chin requesting to speak ("Seven hundred years ago, the Italian poet Dante in the Divine Comedy recognized fraud as the worst of sins, the ultimate evil more than any other act contrary to god's greatest gift to mankind — love," it began). His statement has since been lengthened and revised, he tells Daily Intel, and will run around three minutes. "I think I'll probably end up crying," he said. "I have difficulty reading it to myself in my living room without crying."

Ross, who with his wife lost $5 million, expects he'll be more moved by the stories of the other victims. "I have been able to contain my anger about myself," he says. "We were hoping to have a second home, and now we can't. That's nothing compared to losing your house." But he thinks the most difficult part will be having to hear Bernie explain himself. "I think it will be manipulative, not heartfelt. This is a man who ran a premeditated and calculated fraud for over twenty years. He goes into the slammer and decides it's not to his liking. And now he's sorry? I hope that will be the last time I ever see him," he said. "I assure you that in the afterlife I will not be where he is."

The Judge: The government and the victims want the maximum sentence — 150 years — and then some (one victim who will be speaking requested Madoff receive "an eternity of solitude"). Madoff's lawyers want a light twelve years. It's up to judge Denny Chin, and as the Journal's Law Blog points out, he knows that unless Madoff shivs someone in prison, he will likely receive a 15 percent reduction for good behavior (which would reduce those twelve years to nine), and could even serve the last year of his term in home confinement. Expect the sentence to be closer to the government's end of the spectrum.

Madoff's Wife Cedes Asset Claim [WSJ]
The Madoff Family Splinters [Daily Beast]
Everything You Need to Know About the Madoff Sentencing [WSJ]