A U.S. district judge has sentenced 71-year-old financier Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison for perpetrating the biggest investment scam ever in the United States.
Saying the staggering scale of the fraud called for a severe punishment, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernard Madoff to 150 years in jail.
Prosecutors had sought 150 years, while Madoff's lawyers argued that 12 years was enough for their 71-year-old client to live out his days in prison.
Madoff swindled hundreds of investors and charities out of $65 billion over 20 years in what is known as a Ponzi scheme - taking money from new investors to pay dividends to established investors. Judge Chin said that "breach of trust was massive" and he hoped the sentence would deter other would-be fraudsters.
Victims in the courtroom burst into applause when the judge handed down his sentence.
Saying he acted alone, Madoff turned himself in to authorities in March and pleaded guilty to securities fraud and other charges without standing trial.
He apologized to a packed courtroom, saying he would "live with this pain for the rest of my life."
Outside the courthouse, victim Miriam Siegman told reporters that Madoff's sentence did not matter to her.
"Our sentences are life sentences. It is immaterial to me what sentence he received," she said.
But earlier, some victims said they hoped the disgraced financier would get a stiff sentence.
Cynthia Friedman and her husband Richard had invested 40 years of savings with Madoff starting in 1991.
"The money was stolen. If somebody came into your house and took things you bought - it was not a bad investment that you bought them - but some crook came into your house and stole them. That is what he did," she said.
Friedman and many of the other victims hold the government partly responsible for their losses and are trying to get some compensation. Computer programmer Michael DeVita, 63, who also lost money, questioned why government investigations failed to turn up wrongdoing.
"This never should have happened. Had the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] done their job, with seven investigations," he noted. "Had the IRS [Internal Revenue Service] done their job in 2004, by not approving Bernard Madoff to handle IRA [retirement] accounts, I would not be here talking to you today. There is responsibility here. Bernard Madoff is a thief. But the IRS and SEC failed to do their job and protect us as they needed to do," he said.
Some of the victims said this experience has changed them from private citizens into activists for U.S. securities law reform.