A 'sorry and ashamed' Bernard Madoff pleads guilty

March 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to an epic fraud that robbed investors worldwide of billions of dollars, avoiding eye contact with swindled investors before he was led out of court with his hands cuffed behind his back. 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 spoke steadily in court as he addressed the judge before his guilty plea was accepted.

"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 of them turned in his direction and tried to address him.

After arguments began as to 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.

The fraud 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.

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.

Madoff explained his scheme by telling the judge that he believed the fraud would be short-term and that he could extricate himself.

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.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and David B. Caruso contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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