Death in prison a far cry from Bernie Madoff’s ritzy lifestyle

Fraudster was serving 150-year sentence for creating world’s largest Ponzi scheme

When Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff died yesterday in a North Carolina prison, the conman's lawyer said he was "by no means perfect – but no man is".

Madoff, who was 82, was serving a 150-year sentence for orchestrating the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, a $64.8 billion scam that fell apart as crisis ripped through the world’s financial system in 2008.

“It’s all just one big lie,” he admitted as the money finally ran out after conning thousands of investors in an elaborate ruse that carried on for 15 years at least.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraud that generates returns for earlier investors with money taken from later investors.


Madoff had been an acclaimed figure in New York and he was chairman for three years of the Nasdaq stock market, a position that would have reinforced his standing as an investment guru with seemingly impeccable credentials and stellar results.

Those hit by the swindle include actors Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and John Malkovich, and the charitable foundation of director Steven Spielberg. Also hit was late Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose foundation lost $15.2 million. "We thought he was God. We trusted everything in his hands," Mr Wiesel said in 2009.

The ripples still reverberate. In the High Court yesterday in Dublin, a long-running 2013 case linked to the affair was settled shortly after Madoff's death.


A British Virgin Islands investment fund, Defender Ltd, had sued HSBC Continental Europe (formerly HSBC France) of Grand Canal Square, Dublin. Defender claimed negligence and breach of contract regarding HSBC's alleged role as a custodian of funds lost as a result of fraud by its alleged sub-custodian Bernie L Madoff Securities LLC, a Madoff company. The claims were denied.

Madoff’s prison death and 12 year incarceration were a far cry from the ritzy life he led as a baron of the financial world before his name became a byword for chicanery, excess and deceit.

Madoff, who had terminal kidney disease, sought “compassionate release” last year to die at home. But the judge who had originally sentenced him, saying he was guilty “extraordinary evil”, rejected that request.

The year before his fall Madoff said it was “virtually impossible” to violate rules in the prevailing regulatory environment, something he himself had been doing without a hint of any wrongdoing for many years. “But it’s impossible for a violation to go undetected, certainly not for a considerable period of time.”

Brandon Sample, Madoff's lawyer, said in a statement his client had "lived with guilt and remorse for his crimes" until his death. "Although the crimes Bernie was convicted of have come to define who he was – he was also a father and a husband. He was soft spoken and an intellectual." – Additional reporting: Agencies

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times