NEW YORK – Reviled Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff on Wednesday sought compassionate release from his 150-year prison term, saying he has terminal kidney failure and less than 18 months to live.
Madoff, held in federal custody since his 2009 guilty plea to charges that he stole roughly $20 billion from celebrities, charities, financial funds, and average investors, was admitted to the comfort care unit of a Butner, North Carolina, prison in July for “end-stage renal disease,” attorney Brandon Sample wrote in a Manhattan federal court motion.
The disgraced 81-year-old ex-financier is confined to a wheelchair, suffers shortness of breath that requires him to get supplemental oxygen at night, and also has cardiovascular disease and has other health ailments, the filing said.
He was admitted to a comfort care unit at the prison in July. After initially refusing dialysis, the blood-filtering procedure commonly prescribed for kidney-failure patients, he agreed to start that treatment in December, the court filing said.
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“The nature of Mr. Madoff’s serious medical conditions coupled with the effects of incarceration will only cause his overall physical condition to worsen as his illnesses progress and his death becomes ever more inevitable,” wrote Sample.
While stressing that Madoff doesn’t dispute “the severity of his crimes” or “seek to minimize the suffering of his victims,” the filing argued that the convicted scammer’s conditions meet the guidelines for compassionate release.
Sample filed the motion with the court after the U.S. Bureau of Prisons rejected the administrative request for release Madoff filed in September 2019. The ruling said setting Madoff free “would minimize the severity of his offense.”
The court that sentenced him represents Madoff’s last chance for end-of-life freedom, wrote Sample, who noted in the filing that Scotland granted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi compassionate release for his crimes after he developed terminal prostate cancer.
Sample also cited the case of Bernard Ebbers, the former chief executive of the former WorldCom telecommunications company that went bankrupt in 2002. He was sentenced to a 25-year prison term for an estimated $11 billion accounting fraud.
A Manhattan federal court judge granted Ebbers compassionate release in December, based on his age and deteriorating health. Ebbers died on Feb. 2 at age 78.
“When this court sentenced Bernard Madoff it was clear that Madoff’s 150-year prison sentence was symbolic for three reasons: retribution, deterrence, and for the victims,” the filing said. “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.”
Madoff attracted thousands of investors by delivering improbably steady gains for decades. In reality, he engineered a classic Ponzi scheme — using money from newer clients to pay previous investors, including so-called feeder funds that placed their customers with the former Nasdaq chairman.
He also used the money to finance a lavish lifestyle, with homes in Manhattan, Long Island’s East End and in Europe.
Madoff’s scheme collapsed in December 2008 as many of his customers, needing cash during the national financial crisis, tried to redeem their investments. They soon learned that the investment gains in the records they’d received from Madoff existed only on paper.
The size and decades-long breadth of the scam made it the largest of its kind in U.S. history and one of the top frauds worldwide.
Madoff confessed the scam to his sons. They contacted authorities, who arrested the financier and began unraveling the fraud. Declaring that he had acted alone, Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 without standing trial. Five of his former employees were convicted of aiding the scheme in 2014.
Although Madoff’s sons worked with him, they said they had no idea their father had masterminded a scam. Both died afterward, one by suicide and the other from cancer.
Ruth Madoff, the scammer’s wife, lost everything and moved in with relatives and friends. She, too, said she didn’t know what her husband had done.
According to the Madoff Recovery Initiative website, www.madofftrustee.com, court-appointed trustee Irving Picard had distributed more than $12.9 billion to Madoff’s many victims as of Jan. 24. The trustee had reached agreements or recovered approximately $14.3 billion as of that date as well.
Both totals are far higher than most authorities had expected at the time Madoff was arrested.
If granted release, Madoff would live with a friend who was not identified in the court motion for privacy reasons.