NEW YORK (AP) — Bernie Madoff, the financier who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme, died in a federal prison early Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. He was 82.
Madoff died at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, apparently from natural causes, the person said. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.
Last year, Madoff's lawyers filed court papers to try to get him released from prison in the coronavirus pandemic, saying he had suffered from end-stage renal disease and other chronic medical conditions. The request was denied.
Madoff admitted swindling thousands of clients out of billions of dollars in investments over decades.
A court-appointed trustee has recovered more than $13 billion of an estimated $17.5 billion that investors put into Madoff’s business. At the time of Madoff's arrest, fake account statements were telling clients they had holdings worth $60 billion.
For decades, Madoff enjoyed an image as a self-made financial guru whose Midas touch defied market fluctuations. A former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market, he attracted a devoted legion of investment clients — from Florida retirees to celebrities such as famed film director Steven Spielberg, actor Kevin Bacon and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.
But his investment advisory business was exposed in 2008 as a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that wiped out people’s fortunes and ruined charities and foundations. He became so hated he had to wear a bulletproof vest to court.
Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to securities fraud and other charges, saying he was “deeply sorry and ashamed.”
After several months living under house arrest at his $7 million Manhattan penthouse apartment, he was led off to jail in handcuffs to scattered applause from angry investors in the courtroom.
“He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between. He had no values,” former investor Tom Fitzmaurice told the judge at the sentencing. “He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife ... could live a life of luxury beyond belief.”
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin showed no mercy, sentencing Madoff to the maximum 150 years in prison.
“Here, the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of irresponsible manipulation of the system is not merely a bloodless financial crime that takes place just on paper, but it is instead ... one that takes a staggering human toll,” Chin said.
The Madoffs also took a severe financial hit: A judge issued a $171 billion forfeiture order in June 2009 stripping Madoff of all his personal property, including real estate, investments, and $80 million in assets his wife, Ruth, had claimed were hers. The order left her with $2.5 million.
The scandal also exacted a personal toll on the family: One of his sons, Mark, killed himself on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest in 2010. And Madoff’s brother, Peter, who helped run the business, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012, despite claims he was in the dark about his brother’s misdeeds.
Madoff's other son, Andrew, died from cancer at age 48. Ruth is still living.
Madoff was sent to do what amounted to a life sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex, about 45 miles northwest of Raleigh, N.C. A federal prison website listed his probable release date as Nov. 11, 2139.
Madoff was born in 1938 in a lower-middle-class Jewish neighborhood in Queens. In the financial world, the story of his rise to prominence — how he left for Wall Street with Peter in 1960 with a few thousand dollars saved from working as a lifeguard and installing sprinklers — became legend.