Politics

More than 500 Bernie Madoff victims oppose prison release: Read what they told judge about Ponzi kingpin

Key Points
  • Hundreds of victims of Ponzi scheme kingpin Bernie Madoff really don't want him to get out of prison despite his claim that he is dying — and they recently told a judge their reasons in often-heartbreaking letters.
  • Madoff, who had headed Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in New York City, pleaded guilty in 2009 to 11 crimes related swindling of billions of dollars from thousands of investors.
  • Madoff is asking a judge for early release from his 150-year prison sentence because he has terminal kidney disease.
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

Hundreds of victims of Ponzi scheme kingpin Bernie Madoff really don't want him to get out of prison despite his claim that he is dying. They recently told a judge their reasons in often-heartbreaking letters.

"Our lives, and not just financially, also emotionally, mentally, and physically . . . were Destroyed," wrote one victim, who noted that her husband lost $850,000 to Madoff.

Another woman wrote, "I lost all my money and my husband of 40 years committed suicide because of his horrific crimes.

"As far as I am concerned, he should spend the rest of his life in jail," she wrote to Judge Denny Chin in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Releasing Madoff, a third victim told Chin, "would be to put another knife in the hearts of his victims."

Those three letters are among the approximately 520 that Madoff victims sent Chin on the heels of Madoff's court filing last month seeking early release from his 150-year prison sentence because he has terminal kidney disease.

Madoff, who had headed Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in New York City, pleaded guilty in 2009 to 11 crimes related to the swindling of billions of dollars from thousands of investors over several decades in what prosecutors have called the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

His new lawyer says the 81-year-old Madoff could be dead in 18 months or less given his medical condition, which has left him mainly wheelchair bound in a federal medical prison facility in North Carolina.

Madoff is seeking so-called compassionate release, which was granted several months ago to former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers, who died last month shortly after being set free from a 25-year prison term for a massive accounting fraud.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday evening filed a memorandum opposing Madoff's request, saying he "has demonstrated a wholesale lack of understanding of the seriousness of his crimes and a lack of compassion for his victims, underscoring that he is undeserving of compassionate release himself."  

The filing notes that out of the hundreds of letters from victims sent to Chin, just 20, or 4% of the total, support Madoff's request.

The individual letters are expected to be publicly released at some point.

But prosecutors in their filing quoted parts of a number of letters to bolster their argument opposing the idea of releasing Madoff.

Prosecutors noted that after Madoff's scheme was exposed in 2008, two investors committed suicide "upon realizing the substantial losses they had incurred as a result of investing with Madoff."

"Madoff's son Mark hanged himself on the second anniversary of Madoff's arrest," prosecutors wrote.

"Moreover, as reported by the many victim submissions provided in response to Madoff's motion, Madoff caused many victims immense personal suffering, including by wrecking their family's financial security ruining their retirements or other life plans, or exacerbating the health conditions themselves or loved ones."

"Many of these victims were not independently wealthy, and worked their entire lives to accumulate the savings that Madoff stole to fuel his and his family's extravagant lifestyles."

VIDEO4:5404:54
Bernie Madoff says he's ill, requests early release so he can die at home

 One victim wrote that she got a call from her parents when they were on a cruise in December 2008.

"My father asked if I had heard the news . . . Bernie Madoff was arrested. And I knew exactly what that meant," the victim wrote.

"Our lives were forever changed. And this would be the last vacation my parents could ever afford since their financial future was just stolen. My family lost their life savings, including their proceeds from the sale of a home, as well as any dream of ever being able to retire."

Another victim told Chin: "I am 84 years old, living on a small pension, which does not cover my expenses. I expected that my Madoff investment would be used in my retirement years, to supplement my pension. This has not happened, and I have had to budget very carefully in order to survive. In view of the fact that he has had such an impact on my life, I have no sympathy for this depraved individual. Why should he be shown any compassion, when he had none for his many victims?"

A number of victims have told Chin about medical issues that they ascribe to Madoff and his crimes.

"I believe with all my heart that my husband would be alive today if he had not had to deal with the stress and emotional despair that the loss of almost all of our money had on the family," one woman wrote.

"I developed a rare cancer one year after the debacle (probably due to stress as I had been extremely healthy) and my husband had to deal with my illness, financial ruin and a clawback suit. His already compromised heart condition could not withstand the stress and he sadly passed on in 2015."

Another victim wrote that Madoff "knowingly defrauded thousands of people and I know this stress contributed to the early death of my husband . . . the stress of the past 11 years has taken a toll on me as well. Although I do know he must be suffering with his ailments, there are many of his victims who are suffering and who will continue to suffer."

The administrator for a construction workers' pension fund wrote to Chin: "As hard-working construction workers, our participants cannot physically work into their later years. Our participants saw their retirement, for which they worked for decades, vanish overnight, all because of the overt greed of Mr. Madoff. . . . The stress of losing your retirement funds and having to worry and wonder how you and your family will survive is unmeasurable."

Nobel Laureate writer Elie Wiesel speaks at an anti-Iran rally outside United Nations headquarters during the 63rd General Assembly, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is addressing, September 22, 2008 in New York City.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

Prosecutors noted that before his death in 2016, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel, who was a victim in the case, had said of Madoff: "I would like him to be in a solitary cell with only a screen, and on that screen for at least five years of his life, every day and every night, there should be pictures of his victims, one after the other after the other, all the time a voice saying, 'Look what you have done to this old lady, look what you have done to that child, look what you have done,' nothing else."

And prosecutors cited a letter from another victim, a woman who "wrote that she left the courthouse after Madoff's original sentencing 'with a feeling that justice had been done,' and is left now with the question: 'Should an incarcerated person be released from prison because of a terminal illness, is not the serving of a 150 year sentence meant to be terminal?'"

Last week, the trustee responsible for recouping losses for Madoff victims, said his efforts have recovered $13.93 billion.

That is 80% of the $17.5 billion that the trustee, Irving Picard, has said that customers lost.

Correction: Federal prosecutors on Wednesday evening filed a memorandum opposing Madoff's request for early release. An earlier version misstated the day.