Bernie Madoff Dies: Convicted Ponzi Schemer Was 82

Bernard Madoff, the convicted Ponzi schemer whose long-term, multi-billion-dollar financial manipulations ruined clients and rattled financial markets, has died.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed the death of Madoff, 82, at Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C. The bureau told Deadline in a statement that it resulted from natural causes and not Covid-19.

About a year ago, Madoff’s attorney had requested his release, citing chronic kidney failure and saying he had just 18 months to live as of that time.

Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 and was sentenced in 2011 to the maximum jail term of 150 years. Eventually, authorities managed to return $12 billion to investors, but that was just a fraction of the nearly $65 billion entrusted to Madoff. In the classic Ponzi model, he had used incoming investment funds to pay returns to other investors instead of proceeds from what he claimed were successful investments. Eventually, the setup collapsed when the losses mounted and too many clients were left in the cold, a downward spiral accelerated by the onset of the financial crisis and the failure of Lehman Bros.

The Madoff affair spawned TV movies and bestselling books. His fraud ensnared Hollywood figures like Steven Spielberg as well as baseball’s New York Mets franchise. Spielberg’s charity Wunderkinder had invested in bogus Madoff funds. A number of Jewish charities were among those defrauded by Madoff.

Before his fraud began, Madoff had a lengthy run as a legitimate player in finance, having set up his own securities firm in 1960. He would go on to serve as chairman of the Nasdaq and, as his misrepresentations secretly grew, was regarded as a Wall Street sage. His firm’s spectacular returns attracted regular scrutiny from regulators but never any serious penalties before he confessed in 2008.

There was a distinct and tragic family dimension to Madoff’s crimes. Bernie Madoff’s brother, Peter, pleaded guilty to federal tax and securities fraud charges related to his role as the chief compliance officer of his brother’s firm. He was not accused of knowingly taking part in the Ponzi scheme. Madoff’s two sons both died in the years after his conviction, one of cancer and one by suicide.

In a telephone interview with the Washington Post last year, Madoff said he “made a terrible mistake” and asked for compassion. “I’m terminally ill,” he said. “There’s no cure for my type of disease. So, you know, I’ve served. I’ve served 11 years already, and, quite frankly, I’ve suffered through it.”

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