Ponzi scheme king Bernie Madoff denied compassionate prison release by federal judge

Key Points
  • A federal judge denied Bernie Madoff compassionate release from a 150-year prison sentence despite the Ponzi scheme kingpin saying he is dying from kidney disease.
  • Judge Denny Chin's ruling noted that Madoff committed "one of the most egregious financial crimes of all time," one that "many people are still suffering from."
  • "Our only hope now is that President Trump will show mercy to Madoff by granting a sentence commutation," Madoff's lawyer said.
Bernard L. Madoff leaves US Federal Court January 14, 2009.
Timothy A. Clary | Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday rejected a request to release notorious Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff early from a 150-year prison sentence despite Madoff's plea that he is dying from kidney disease.

Judge Denny Chin's ruling noted that Madoff, 82, committed "one of the most egregious financial crimes of all time," and that "many people are still suffering from" it.

Chin's denial came four months after Madoff, who orchestrated the largest Ponzi scheme in history at his self-named Manhattan investment firm, said in a court filing that he had less than 18 months to live, and asked to be set free to spend his remaining days living with a friend.

Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 to 11 crimes related to swindling billions of dollars from thousands of investors.

He is currently being held at a federal medical facility in North Carolina.

Chin's ruling detailed the massive scope of Madoff's crimes, the approximately 500 letters from victims that opposed his release because of the "staggering human toll" from his deeds, and the judge's own belief that "Mr. Madoff was never truly remorseful" for his decades-long fraud.

One of Madoff's victims had written Chin, "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 our money had on our family."

The judge in his ruling U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote, "When I sentenced Mr. Madoff in 2009, it was fully my intent that he live out the rest of his life in prison. His lawyers asked then for a sentence of 12 to 15 to 20 years, specifically with the hope that Mr. Madoff would live to see "the light of day,' "

"I was not persuaded; I did not believe that Mr. Madoff was deserving of that hope. Nothing has happened in the 11 years since to change my thinking."

"While Mr. Madoff's present medical situation is most unfortunate, compassionate release is not warranted," wrote Chin, who like other federal judges in 2018 was granted the power to release federal inmates on health grounds under The First Step Act.

Bernie Madoff's victims, 10 years later
Bernie Madoff's victims, 10 years later

Madoff still is pursuing a request that President Donald Trump commute his sentence. 

His lawyer Bernard Sample, in a statement to CNBC, said that Chin "recognized today that Madoff's health is in serious decline and that he is, in fact, terminally ill."

"Nonetheless, Judge Chin essentially found that because of the nature of Madoff's crimes — Madoff is beyond redemption," the lawyer said.

"We are disappointed with Judge Chin's refusal to grant Madoff any compassion," Sample said.

The attorney added, "Our only hope now is that President Trump will show mercy to Madoff by granting a sentence commutation. We implore the president to personally consider Madoff's rapidly declining health. President Trump, through his leadership on the First Step Act, has demonstrated his commitment to mercy and redemption."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Madoff, declined to comment on the decision.

Sample in February had said that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons recognized that Madoff "meets the criteria for a reduction of sentence based on his end-stage renal disease," but that the agency 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."

Irving Picard, the trustee tasked with recouping money for victims of Madoff, also declined to comment. According to the trustee's website, about $14.35 billion had been recovered as of late May for the victims, of which about $13.32 billion had been distributed.

That compares to about $19.41 billion in allowed claims, submitted by 16,521 victims.

- Additional reporting by Scott Cohn