Saying he was “deeply sorry and ashamed,” Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty today 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.