Ponzi scheme king Bernie Madoff says he is dying, seeks early release from prison

Key Points
  • Bernie Madoff, the notorious Ponzi schemer, says that he is dying from kidney disease, and is seeking an early release from prison.
  • Madoff currently is serving a 150-year prison sentence in a North Carolina federal facility. He would live with a friend if released.
  • He asked President Donald Trump last year to reduce his sentence for swindling thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.
  • On Thursday, a lawyer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York asked a judge to set a March 4 deadline for them to submit a response to Madoff's request.
Bernie Madoff seeks medical release from prison
Bernie Madoff seeks medical release from prison

Bernie Madoff, the notorious Ponzi schemer, says that he is dying from terminal kidney disease, and on Wednesday asked a judge to grant him an early release from prison on compassionate grounds so that he can live out his remaining days with a friend.

A lawyer for Madoff, in a legal filing, says the fraudster has "less than 18 months to live," and is suffering from "numerous other serious medical conditions" including cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

On Thursday, a lawyer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Madoff, filed a court document asking a judge to set a March 4 deadline for them to submit a response to Madoff's request.

Under their proposal, Madoff would have until March 11 to reply to the U.S. Attorney's Office's position. Madoff's lawyers agreed with that tentative schedule, according to the court document.

Madoff, 81, is serving a 150-year prison sentence in a North Carolina federal facility for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history at his firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in New York City.

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to 11 crimes related swindling of billions of dollars from thousands of investors over several decades.

"I'm terminally ill," Madoff told The Washington Post in an article Wednesday.

"There's no cure for my type of disease. So, you know, I've served. I've served 11 years already, and, quite frankly, I've suffered through it," Madoff told the newspaper.

But one of Madoff's victims, Gregg Felsen, had no sympathy for the arch-scammer who decimated his savings.

"He's terminally ill? I'm terminally broke," Felsen told the Washington Post. "He ruined a lot of people's lives and changed them forever. He deserves no leniency whatsoever."

Madoff last summer was moved into palliative care in the Federal Medical Center prison in Butner, N.C., according to the filing by his lawyer in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Madoff has refused to undergo dialysis treatment and is confined to a wheelchair, the lawyer, Brandon Sample, wrote.

If a judge sets him free, Madoff, who forfeited all his financial assets when he pleaded guilty, would "financially support himself through Social Security and Medicare benefits," according to Sample.

"If released, he will live with a friend," said the filing, which did not identify that person willing to host Madoff.

Sample wrote, "Madoff does not dispute the severity of his crimes nor does he seek to minimize the suffering of his victims. Madoff has expressed remorse for his crimes."

Financier Bernard Madoff leaves Manhattan Federal court March 10, 2009 in New York City.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

"Now, after over ten years of incarceration and with less than 18 months to live, Madoff humbly asks this Court for a modicum of compassion."

Sample said the U.S. Bureau of Prisons had recognized that Madoff "meets the criteria for a reduction of sentence based on his end-stage renal disease," but has denied his request for compassionate release.

The BOP said in its denial letter on Dec. 5 that, "in light of the nature and circumstances of his offense, his release at this time would minimize the severity of his offense."

The First Step Act, which Congress passed in 2018, gives federal judges the power to release prison inmates on health grounds.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment on his request for early release.

So did the Madoff Trustee, who is responsible for recovering funds for victims of his scheme. To date, the Madoff Trustee has recovered more than $14.3 billion for Madoff customers, or more than 75 cents for every dollar of claims filed by victims of the scam.

Peter Chavkin, a lawyer for Madoff's wife, Ruth Madoff, declined to comment.

The couple's two sons, Mark and Andrew, both died during Madoff's time in prison.

Mark killed himself in December 2010 on the second anniversary of his father's arrest.

Andrew died in 2014 from cancer.

Sample told CNBC, "The federal prison system acknowledges that he has only months left to live. The compassionate release statute is precisely for situations like Mr. Madoff's."

"Mr. Madoff has been punished significantly for his crimes. He has been in prison for over 10 years and holds deep remorse for his conduct," Sample said. "He should be allowed to spend the few remaining moments he has on this earth with the people who — despite his mistakes — still love and care for him."

Madoff's request comes nearly seven months after he asked President Donald Trump to reduce his sentence by granting him executive clemency.

On Sunday, former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers died, less than two months after he was released on compassionate grounds in December from federal prison in Texas, where Ebbers had been serving a 25-year sentence for overseeing one of the largest accounting frauds in U.S. history.

Madoff's petition Wednesday cited Ebbers' release, which came at the order of a judge in the same New York federal district where Madoff was convicted.

Sample said in the filling that a prison term that was "just and proportionate at the time of sentencing may become disproportionately severe based on changed circumstances, such as terminal illness."

"This Court must now consider whether keeping Madoff incarcerated, in light of his terminal kidney failure and a life expectancy of less than 18 months, is truly in furtherance of statutory sentencing goals and our society's value and understanding of compassion," the lawyer wrote.

Sample also wrote that releasing Madoff "would allow him to receive end-of-life care in the community, which would be more efficient, timely, and less burdensome on the" prison system.

"Compassionate release and treatment outside of a correctional environment is not only the most effective manner of treatment, it would also be the most efficient and least expensive," the lawyer wrote.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct a single misspelling of Madoff's name.

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