Bernard Madoff asked President Donald Trump to shorten his 150-year prison sentence, effectively seeking to finish his life in freedom after running the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.
Madoff, 81, filed the request with the Justice Department, whose website lists no filing date. He is asking for a reduced sentence rather than a pardon.
Having cost investors some $20 billion in lost principal -- and many their life savings -- Madoff is dreaming, said Rachel Barkow, faculty director at New York University’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law.
“There is zero chance the Department of Justice would recommend that this petition be granted,” Barkow said.
“It is hard to imagine a less sympathetic nonviolent offender than Bernard Madoff,” Matthew Schwartz, who helped prosecute Madoff and convict five aides, said in an email. “His tens of thousands of victims still continue to feel the profound and devastating harm from his decades-long fraud to this day. The president can surely find more deserving recipients of his commutation power.”
Randall Jackson, another former federal prosecutor now in private practice who worked on the Madoff case, had a more succinct appraisal of the clemency request.
“That’s hilarious,” he said. “I’m actually speechless.”
Madoff’s current attorney couldn’t immediately be identified for comment on his request; his attorney during his prosecution, Ira Lee Sorkin, said he had no comment on it. The Justice Department also declined to comment. The White House didn’t respond to an email.
Madoff’s fraud targeted thousands of wealthy investors, Jewish charities, celebrities and retirees. It unraveled in 2008 when the economic crisis led to more withdrawals than Madoff could afford to pay out. Some clients learned they lost their life savings after Madoff’s confession and arrest on Dec. 11 of that year.
If Trump commuted Madoff’s sentence, he would have to do so against a Justice Department recommendation, Barkow said.
“Given the political hit he’d face, I can’t see any reason why Trump would do it,” she said.
Madoff, who is doing his time at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, pleaded guilty just months after he was arrested. But he later laid some of the blame on his earliest and richest investors, saying he was a legitimate securities broker forced into a life of crime partly to meet their demands for high returns.
The prosecutors who sent him to prison presented evidence at a trial of five Madoff aides that almost no trading took place while the con man managed money.
Irving Picard, the trustee appointed to handle the dissolution of Madoff’s investment firm, has recovered more than $13 billion for them, mostly by suing customers who profited from scam. Picard has used a straightforward method to calculate where customers stood financially: their deposits with Madoff minus money withdrawn. Net losers got claims for repayment, while some net winners were sued for the return of bogus profits.
On Wednesday, Picard’s spokeswoman, Heather Wlodek, declined to comment on Madoff’s request.
After the 2008 conviction, Picard’s lawyer, David Sheehan, spent hours questioning Madoff, who touted his early investing prowess.
“I started my business with literally $500,” Madoff said. “By ’87, I was a rich guy.”
CNBC reported Madoff’s request earlier on Wednesday.