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Madoff victims describe pain of fraud to judge

Larry Neumeister
The Associated Press
Aspen, Colorado

NEW YORK – More than 100 victims of failed financier Bernard Madoff’s multibillion-dollar fraud urged a judge Monday to sentence him harshly, saying he ruined their lives, leaving many of them depressed, bitter and hopeless.

“Please don’t let his brilliant criminal mind loose to do it again,” Steve Norton pleaded in a letter to the judge after describing how he lost $1.1 million in retirement money. “He took the rest of our lives. Don’t give him his back.”

Kathleen Bignell of Gunnison, Colo., said she told her 89-year-old father he cannot die because she no longer has money to bury him. She said Madoff “ought to be able to look forward to just exactly what he has done to us. No hope, no future and no forgiveness.”

In 113 statements, victims from across the country repeatedly referred to the 71-year-old Madoff as a “monster” who, as one victim put it, has “no soul, no remorse, no conscience.”

Carl Kornblum wrote that he is 70 years old and his wife is 66, both forced by the Madoff fraud to sell their home and go back to work.

“Can you believe as teenagers and school chums and young marrieds we were once friends with Bernie and Ruth Madoff????” he wrote. “I really can’t believe Bernie could be such a sociopathic low-life!!! Thank you for all you can do to see that justice is served on this scoundrel.”

Letter after letter urged U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to sentence Madoff to the maximum 150 years in prison after he pleaded guilty in March to securities fraud, perjury and other charges.

Madoff, who has been jailed since he entered his guilty plea, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 29.

Thousands of people lost billions of dollars investing with Madoff, who authorities say confessed to his sons in early December that he had been running a giant Ponzi scheme for decades in which early investors were paid with money collected from later investors.

In the letters, victims urged Chin to show no mercy for the man they described alternately as “wicked,” ”cruel,” ”amoral,” ”heartless, “ruthless” and “arrogant.” One letter called Madoff one of the most hated men in the world.

Some of them criticized the government for not doing more to help them. And they reacted angrily at being portrayed in some published reports as greedy, saying they passed up riskier investments that promised higher returns for the steady profits reported by Madoff.

They also urged investigators to keep pursuing probes of Madoff’s family members on the belief that some of them had to know about the fraud or even had a role in it.

Ira Sorkin, Madoff’s lawyer, said any comment he would make in response to the letters would be made in writing to the judge prior to the sentencing.

Dozens of retired investors said they were forced to look for work to survive after the loss of their investments drove them to put their homes up for sale.

“I can use every superlative in the dictionary, but none would suffice to tell you how damaging Madoff’s scheme was,” a letter from Ronnie Sue and Dominic Ambrosino said.

Ronnie Sue Ambrosino said the couple had so much faith in Madoff that they put their entire life savings in his hands and even took out a loan to buy a motor home rather than pay for it outright because they did not want to withdraw any of their money from Madoff.

She said when she learned of Madoff’s fraud she felt numb.

“The air in the room was thick and there was silence. The birds that had been chirping stopped singing. The squirrels stopped scurrying. The sun stopped shining. There was a void,” she wrote. She said her decision to attend Madoff’s plea brought her even more pain when she was hit by a van and was left in a cast for eight weeks.

Morton J. Chalek of Port Jefferson Station, New York, wrote: “I am 86 years old. I have a broken knee, I have lung cancer and thanks to Madoff, I am now bankrupt.”

Jesse L. Cohen of Summit, New Jersey, told Chin to give him one year off his sentence “for every one billion dollars of hidden money that he reveals. In lieu of that, please make sure that the facility in which he rots is extremely uncomfortable.”

“I am broke – robbed by ‘The Madoff gang,'” wrote Emma De Vita of Chalfont, Pennsylvania.

Caren Low of Harrison, New York, wrote that her family’s name is on buildings at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Hebrew Home for the Aged in New Rochelle and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She said they are benefactors of Lincoln Center and founders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

She said she went on anti-depressants after she learned what Madoff had done and is now looking for work.

“It’s absolutely revolting,” she wrote. “I guess one lesson learned is not to give away too much money before you die as you never know what can happen.”


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