Bernie Madoff, World Record Holder for Biggest Ponzi Scheme, Dead at 82

Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, who carried out the largest Ponzi scheme in history, died Wednesday, April 14th, at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina. He was 82.

The Federal Correctional Institution Butner Medium, where Madoff was incarcerated, confirmed his death. According to The Associated Press, a source said Madoff died of natural causes. As The New York Times notes, Madoff was reportedly suffering from kidney disease and had requested an early release from prison last year after being admitted to palliative care.

Originally known as a self-made financial wiz, Madoff was one of Wall Street’s biggest players for decades. He helped launched Nasdaq, the first electronic stock exchange, and served as its chairman. As the head of his investment firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, he cultivated a client list that included a variety of banks and charities around the world, pension funds, individuals, retirees, and even celebrities like Kevin Bacon and Steven Spielberg.

Although Madoff boasted of high returns, in reality, he was using money from new investors to pay off old investors, while taking some off the top for himself, as NBC News reports. And while some red flags had been raised about Madoff, especially in the early 2000s, he was largely able to avoid serious scrutiny until the global financial meltdown of 2008 revealed his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. As the crisis deepened, clients tried to withdraw billions, but Madoff had nowhere near enough money on hand to cover that.

Madoff was arrested on December 11th, 2008, and charged with securities fraud. His firm’s statements at that time stated there was about $65 billion in its accounts, although most of that wasn’t real. As a result, retirement funds and savings accounts were decimated, and Madoff became one of the great villains of the Great Recession (he reportedly even started wearing a bulletproof vest to court).

Madoff pleaded guilty to securities fraud and other charges in March 2009, and he was ultimately sentenced to 150 years in prison.

At his sentencing, Madoff said, “I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain, I understand that. I live in a tormented state now, knowing of all the pain and suffering that I have created. I have left a legacy of shame, as some of my victims have pointed out, to my family and my grandchildren.”

At the same hearing, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said, “Here, the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of irresponsible manipulation of the system is not merely a bloodless financial crime that takes place just on paper, but it is instead … one that takes a staggering human toll.”

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