Bernard Madoff was sentenced to serve 150 years in a federal prison after he pleaded guilty to orchestrating a $65 billion Ponzi scheme through his investment firm, plunging thousands of clients into emotional turmoil and financial ruin. The then-71-year-old entered a federal prison in North Carolina, where he reportedly felt safer than in New York City; his daughter-in-law claimed he wrote in a letter at one point, "As you can imagine, I am quite the celebrity, and am treated like a Mafia don."
"I’m terminally ill," Madoff told the Washington Post, referring to his kidney disease. "There’s no cure for my type of disease. So, you know, I’ve served. I’ve served 11 years already, and, quite frankly, I’ve suffered through it."
"[H]is dying wish is to salvage relationships with his grandchildren," according to the Post.
The Bureau of Prisons rejected his bid for an early release, with the general counsel writing, "His condition is considered terminal with a life expectancy of less than 18 months. However, Mr. Madoff is accountable of a loss to investors of over $13 billion. Accordingly, in light of the nature and circumstances of his offense, his release at this time would minimize the severity of his offense."
During the sentencing, Madoff's lawyer had recommended a 12-year sentence. However, the judge, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, wanted something symbolic to capture the scope and longevity of the scam. The NY Times analyzed Chin's thinking after the sentence was handed down:
By the time Judge Chin entered his chambers the morning of Monday, June 29, he had decided what his draft was missing, he said. In explaining how the 150-year sentence was symbolically important, he had neglected to include a third, crucial reason: retribution. “A defendant should get his just deserts,” he remembered thinking.
He had an intern quickly research relevant cases; he reviewed them and began writing, adding about 100 words to the draft. He recalled that as he had thought about Mr. Madoff’s conduct, two words came to mind: “extraordinarily evil.” He put them in his draft.
“One of the traditional notions of punishment,” he wrote, “is that an offender should be punished in proportion to his blameworthiness.” Mr. Madoff’s crimes were “extraordinarily evil,” he added. In a society governed by the rule of law, he wrote, the message had to be sent that Mr. Madoff would “get what he deserves,” and would be “punished according to his moral culpability.”