Top Stories
Top Stories
Politics

Bernie Madoff asking Trump to reduce his prison sentence for massive Ponzi scheme

Key Points
  • Notorious Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff has a petition pending with the Justice Department asking for clemency from President Donald Trump.
  • Madoff, 81, currently is serving a 150-year sentence in a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
  • Madoff is asking that his sentenced be commuted by Trump, meaning that he would be released from prison. He is not requesting a pardon from the president.
Bernard Madoff, founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, leaves federal court in New York on Tuesday, March 10, 2009.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Notorious Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff is asking that President Donald Trump reduce his 150-year prison sentence — a a request that Madoff's prosecutor promptly called "the very definition of chutzpah."

Madoff, 81, is currently locked up in a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

The decadeslong scam conducted while he headed Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in New York City swindled thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.

Madoff, who pleaded guilty to 11 crimes in 2009, is not asking for a pardon from the president.

Instead, he is requesting clemency from Trump in the form of a sentence commutation, or reduction, according to an application filed with the Justice Department.

VIDEO3:3203:32
Watch how the largest Ponzi scheme in history unraveled 10 years ago

A search of the Justice Department's website shows that Madoff's clemency request is "pending."

It is not clear when Madoff first filed the request. It is possible that he did so during the administration of President Barack Obama, who was in the White House when Madoff was sent to prison.

If Trump's previous opinions on Madoff and his family are any indication, the uber-crook faces long odds in winning an early release.

Trump, in his 2009 book "Think Like a Champion," wrote that he said "no" to Madoff's suggestion that he invest in his fund.

"I had enough going on in my own businesses that I didn't need to be associated or involved with his," Trump wrote in his book, according to an article at the time in U.S. News & World Report.

In that same book, Trump said he knew a number of people who had invested their life savings with the scamster.

"He is without a doubt a sleazebag and a scoundrel without par," Trump wrote.

The New York Post, citing a source close to the Madoff family, two years ago reported that after Madoff's conviction, Trump refused to rent his wife Ruth Madoff an apartment in his Manhattan buildings when she was looking for a new place to live.

News of the application first was posted online earlier this week by Bill Dedman, an investigative reporter who previously worked at NBC News.

It is not known if Trump will consider the request, or when he might do so.

Madoff's former lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, told CNBC he had no information about the request.

The White House referred questions about Madoff's bid for clemency to the Justice Department.

Marc Litt, who was the lead federal prosecutor in the criminal case against Madoff, to CNBC on Wednesday, "Bernard Madoff received a fair and just sentence – one that both appropriately punished him for decades of criminal conduct that caused devastating damage to tens of thousands of victims, and sent a loud and clear message to deter would-be fraudsters."

"Madoff's current request is the very definition of chutzpah," said Litt, who currently is a partner at the law firm Wachtel Missry in New York, where his office overlooks the "Lipstick Building" that formerly housed Madoff's company.

"I'm confident that the career [Justice Department] attorneys responsible for evaluating such requests will reject it out of hand."

DOJ statistics show that the department received 1,003 petitions for pardons and another 5,657 for sentence commutations that could have been considered by Trump since he was in the White House.

Trump has granted 10 pardons and just four commutations.

His pardon recipients include controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, deceased boxer Jack Johnson, conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, and, most recently, former media mogul Conrad Black, who wrote a biography entitled "Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other."

Two other pardon recipients, Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, also had their prison sentences for arson on federal lands commuted by Trump.

Madoff's former longtime secretary also is asking Trump for a commutation of her six-year prison term for helping facilitate the Ponzi scheme, according to the Justice Department's webpage.

In January, a federal judge rejected a separate request by that secretary, Annette Bongiorno, 70, to be released into home confinement. Bongiorno has served nearly 4½ years of her prison sentence in a federal facility in New York state.

Peter Madoff, Bernie's younger brother, pleaded guilty in 2012 to falsifying records at the Madoff investment firm, and to conspiracy to commit securities fraud. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and is due to be released in October 2020.

There is no record of a clemency petition from Peter Madoff on the Justice Department's website.

Ruth Madoff in May agreed to pay $594,000 and to surrender her remaining assets when she dies as part of a settlement of claims by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee who for years has tried to recoup money for Madoff's customers. Ruth Madoff was never charged in connection with her husband's crimes.

Madoff's scheme originally was estimated to have lost upward of $65 billion for his investors.

But Picard as of last November had recovered more than $13.3 billion of the approximately $17.5 billion of claims by customers who say they were swindled by Madoff's scheme.

The Wall Street Journal, in a story about that tally, noted, "That's a little over 75 cents on the dollars, which is remarkable, considering that when they started Mr. Picard expected to recover '5 to 10 cents on the dollar,' which is 'typical in a Ponzi-scheme case.'"

Madoff's sons have both died since he was locked up. His oldest son, Mark, hanged himself in December 2010, on the second anniversary of his father's confession to the Madoff family of his crimes.

Madoff's other son, Andrew, died in 2014 after a long battle with a rare form of cancer.

Neither Andrew nor Mark were ever charged in connection with their father's crimes.

But Picard reached settlements with both sons' estates and related defendants totaling more than $23 million in 2017.

VIDEO21:2021:20
Madoff 10 Years Later: Ep. 3 | Hunting Bernie's Billions

-- Additional reporting by CNBC's Kevin Breuninger.