Madoff cuffed and led to jail
NEW YORK (AP) -- Saying he was "deeply sorry and ashamed," Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to pulling off perhaps the biggest swindle in Wall Street history and was immediately led off to jail in handcuffs to the applause of his seething victims in the courtroom.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin denied bail for Madoff, 70, and ordered him to jail, noting that he had the means to flee and an incentive to do so because of his age.
Madoff earlier spoke softly but firmly to the judge as he pleaded guilty to 11 charges in his first public comments about his crimes since the scandal broke in early December.
"I am actually grateful for this opportunity to publicly comment about my crimes, for which I am deeply sorry and ashamed," he said.
"As the years went by, I realized my risk and this day would inevitably come. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for my crimes."
Madoff did not look at any of the three investors who spoke at the hearing, even when one turned in his direction and tried to address him.
The fraud, which prosecutors say may have totaled nearly $65 billion, turned a revered money man into an overnight global disgrace whose name became synonymous with the current economic meltdown.
Madoff described his crimes after he entered a guilty plea to all 11 counts he was charged with, including fraud, perjury, theft from an employee benefit plan, and two counts of international money laundering.
He told the judge that he believed the fraud would be short-term and that he could extricate himself.
Prosecutors say the disgraced financier, who has spent three months under house arrest in his $7 million in Manhattan penthouse, could face a maximum sentence of 150 years in prison at sentencing.
The plea came three months after the FBI claimed Madoff admitted to his sons that his once-revered investment fund was all a big lie -- a Ponzi scheme that was in the billions of dollars. Since his arrest in December, the scandal has turned the 70-year-old former Nasdaq chairman into a pariah who has worn a bulletproof vest to court.
The scheme evaporated life fortunes, wiped out charities and apparently pushed at least two investors to commit suicide. Victims big and small were swindled by Madoff, from elderly Florida retirees to actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
After arguments began on whether Madoff should remain free on bail, his lawyer Ira Sorkin described the bail conditions and how Madoff had, "at his wife's own expense," paid for private security at his $7 million penthouse.
Loud laughter erupted among some of the more than 100 spectators crammed into the large courtroom on the 24th floor of the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. The judge warned the spectators to remain silent.
George Nierenberg, the first of the three investors to speak, approached the podium glaring at Madoff, then said in the financier's direction: "I don't know if you had a chance to turn around and look at the victims."
At the hint of a confrontation, a marshal sitting behind Madoff stood up, and the judge directed Nierenberg to speak directly to the bench.
The plea does not end the Madoff saga: Investigators are still undertaking the daunting task of unraveling how he pulled off the fraud for decades without being caught. They suspect that his family and top lieutenants who helped run his operation from its midtown Manhattan headquarters may have been involved.
Madoff's plea was absent a cooperation agreement that would have required him to name potential co-conspirators. But in court documents, prosecutors have indicated that low-level employees were in on the scam and may be cooperating.
Court papers say Madoff hired many people with little or no training or experience in the securities industry to serve as a secretive "back office" for his investment advisory business. He generated or had employees generate "tens of thousands of account statements and other documents through the U.S. Postal Service, operating a massive Ponzi scheme," prosecutors said.
The money was never invested, but was used by Madoff, his business and others, prosecutors said.
Authorities said he confessed to his family that he had carried out a $50 billion fraud. In court documents filed Tuesday, prosecutors raised the size of the fraud to $64.8 billion.
Experts say the actual loss was more likely much less and that higher numbers reflect false profits he promised investors. So far, authorities have located about $1 billion for jilted investors.
In addition to prison time, he said Madoff faces mandatory restitution to victims, forfeiture of ill-gotten gains and criminal fines.