Madoff pleads guilty, jailed for $65 bln fraud

NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Bernard Madoff pleaded  guilty yesterday to orchestrating the biggest investment  fraud in Wall Street history and was jailed to await a sentence  that could keep him in prison for the rest of his life.

As some of his victims looked on in the courtroom, the  former Nasdaq stock market chairman calmly described for 10  minutes a long-running, worldwide Ponzi scheme that he knew was  criminal from the start but thought would end quickly.

“I am painfully aware that I have deeply hurt many, many  people,” including family, friends and associates, the  grim-faced Madoff, 70, said before U.S. Judge Denny Chin in  Manhattan federal court. It was the first time he had spoken  publicly of his crime.

“When I began my Ponzi scheme I believed it would end  shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients  from the scheme,” said Madoff, who wore a gray suit but none of  the rings that were a signature of his style.

Madoff, who read from a prepared statement, did not mention  the size of the scheme, but prosecutors have said it amounted  to as much as $65 billion over 20 years and involved more than  4,800 client accounts.

Madoff said that shutting down the scheme, in which early  investors were paid with money from new ones, proved  impossible. “As the years went by, I realized that my arrest  and this day would inevitably come,” he said.

Madoff has become one of the most vilified men in America,  a symbol of the unraveling of Wall Street that has laid bare  other multimillion dollar frauds. Some onlookers cheered as he  was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Dozens of investors caught in Madoff’s web huddled outside  the courthouse, commiserating, crying and passing judgment on  the disgraced financier.

“It’s a Pyrrhic, bittersweet victory,” said Miriam Siegman,  65, of New York City. A retired consultant, she said she had  lost her life savings to Madoff’s fraudulent investments and  now receives food stamps.

“I have no one to help me. That he’s in jail doesn’t change  that,” she said. “I still have the rest of my life to live, or  try to live, in incredible stress and in total poverty. He took  everything.”

Two suicides have been associated with the collapse of  Madoff’s scheme.

The swindle has cast a harsh light on securities regulators  for failing to uncover the scam, even after a whistleblower  brought it to the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange  Commission in May 1999.
The case has intensified demands for greater regulation of  the financial industry.

Madoff’s investors included hedge funds, banks, Jewish  charities, the wealthy, and small individual investors in North  and South America and Europe.

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