On June 29, 2009, Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison. Sitting in the courtroom that day was quite an experience. Below are my notes from that historic sentencing hearing.
Judge Chin’s sentencing of the maximum sentence drew cheers from the crowd after almost a full hour of very emotional presentations by Madoff’s victims. Judge Chin threw the book at Madoff calling it a “staggering fraud” and “not mob vengeance” as argued by Madoff’s counsel. He called the fraud a “massive breach of trust.”
One of the most amazing parts of the hearing was Judge Chin reporting that he had received not one single letter of support from family or friends of Madoff. That is astounding. I’ve never experienced a sentencing hearing in which at least one human being stood up for the character of the accused.
Judge Chin is known as independent minded and stated that any sentence over 20 or 25 years is symbolic and very important for retribution (message that extraordinary evil crime), deterrence and for the victims.
The victims’ speeches were extraordinary. Many in the crowd were crying. Of the nine victims who spoke, two broke down crying, two referred to Madoff as a monster or a beast and all told compelling stories of vanished wealth. A 33 year old man spoke about Madoff even defrauding his mentally disabled twin. Truly awful stuff.
Many victims blamed the government and the SEC for their failures to which Judge Chin once replied that there was no place for such comments in a sentencing hearing.
Ike Sorkin tried the best he could to stand up for Madoff calling him numerous times a “deeply flawed human being.” He also argued that only $12 billion was lost and investors will maybe get that much back. He also stated there was no hidden money and that Madoff has cooperated.
Madoff’s speech was pathetic. He didn’t apologize to the victims until his last sentence and made a very weak gesture of turning to face them all at the end. This was in response to the prior hearing when one of Madoff’s victims blamed him for not even looking at them in the courtroom. Madoff seemed to have no feelings at all and continued to make statements to protect his family.
Clearly, Judge Chin was having none of what Madoff or Sorkin said.
What was the reaction from investors? They were pleased Madoff got 150 years but still want their money back. An investor told me he wished Madoff would live that long just so he can serve whole 150 years. I responded that if there’s a hell, Bernie Madoff is the devil’s first pick in the draft – the sooner he’s available, the better.