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Bernard Madoff arrives at a federal court in Manhattan on March 12 to plead guilty to 11 charges. ((Louis Lanzano/Associated Press))

Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced Monday in New York to the maximum 150 years behind bars for fleecing hundreds of investors out of tens of billions of dollars in a massive Ponzi scheme.

"The Madoff Affair" airs on June 29 on The Passionate Eye on CBC Newsworld at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Madoff, 71, has been in jail since March, when he pleaded guilty to securities fraud and other charges.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin called the fraud "staggering," adding that " the breach of trust was massive."

"Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll," Chin said.

In court prior to the judge's decision, Madoff faced some of his victims and said he was sorry. He said he "will live with this pain, this torment, for the rest of my life."

"I dug myself deeper into a hole" as the Ponzi scheme progressed, Madoff told court.

Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, said his client expects to live out his life behind bars.

Wife ashamed of the scandal

Ruth Madoff, the wife of the fallen financier, issued a statement following the sentencing saying she was ashamed and embarassed by the scandal.

In a written statement distributed outside the couple's Manhattan apartment, she said it was wrong to interpret her silence over the matter up until Monday as indifference.

"Lives have been upended and futures have been taken away," she said in the statement.

Bernie Madoff

  • Former non-executive chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange.
  • Pleaded guilty on March 12 to 11 charges of defrauding investors out of as much as $65 billion US over 20 years in a Ponzi scheme. The charges included securities fraud and perjury.
  • On June 27, a judge ordered Madoff to forfeit about $170 billion US. That amount is what prosecutors said flowed through the main account used to operate the scheme, not an actual amount of assets held. The government will probably only be able to recoup a fraction of it.
  • U.S. marshals will be able to sell Madoff's $7 million US apartment and primary residence in Manhattan, a $11 million US house in Palm Beach, Fla., and a $4 million US home in Montauk on New York's Long Island.
  • The ruling also means luxury cars and boats, a home in Cap d'Antibes, France, artwork and jewelry can be sold off. Madoff and his wife, Ruth, will lose their interest in tens of millions of dollars in loans they made to family, employees and friends.

Harsh punishment

Earlier, Madoff sat and listened as victims of the scheme spoke of their losses and called for harsh punishment.

The nine victims who addressed the hearing included Carla and Stanley Hirschhorn, who said the loss of their life savings is "a living nightmare that we can't wake up from."

"He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between. He had no values," said another victim, Tom Fitzmaurice, in court. "He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife Ruth could live a life of luxury beyond belief."

Chin said the U.S. federal probation department recommended that Madoff get a sentence of 50 years.

Prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of 150 years. Any lesser term, they said, should at least be the equivalent of a life sentence.

Madoff's lawyer had asked the judge to hand down a 12-year prison sentence.

At the time of Madoff's arrest late last year, fictitious account statements showed thousands of clients had investments worth $65 billion U.S. But investigators said he never traded securities, and instead used money from new investors to pay returns to existing clients.

Madoff was ordered to forfeit about $170 billion on June 26 — the amount prosecutors said flowed through the main account used to operate the scheme — not an actual amount of assets held. The government will probably only be able to recoup a fraction of it.

Prosecutors said the total losses, which span decades, haven't been calculated. But 1,341 accounts opened since December 1995 alone suffered losses of $13.2 billion, they said.

With files from The Associated Press