Bernie Madoff: Fraudster who swindled clients out of billions dies in US prison

14 April 2021, 14:31 | Updated: 14 April 2021, 15:43

Financier Bernie Madoff, who swindled thousands of clients out of billions of dollars, has died in prison.

The 82-year-old passed away from natural causes at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, the Associated Press reported.

He was put behind bars in 2009 after pleading guilty to defrauding thousands of clients out of billions of dollars in investments over several decades, and was serving a prison term of 150 years.

It is estimated that investors put $17.5bn into Madoff's business, with $13bn having been recovered so far.

In what was the largest Ponzi scheme in history, Madoff told clients that they had holdings of $60bn in his company Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.

But in actual fact, investigators said he used the money paid to him by clients to make deposits to new investors, and that he had not made a trade for his advisory clients in years by the time of his arrest in 2008.

Madoff pleaded guilty at the start of 2009. Investigators said the scheme started in the 1970s, while Madoff said the fraud started in the 1990s - when "the market stalled due to the onset of the recession and the Gulf War".

It is thought as many as 37,000 people could have been affected across 136 countries, including charities and foundations. Those who gave money to Madoff included director Steven Spielberg and actor Kevin Bacon.

Last year, Madoff's legal team tried to get him released from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he had suffered with end-stage kidney disease and other chronic medical conditions.

The request was denied.

A former investor told Madoff's sentencing hearing that "he had no values" - and he had become so hated he had to wear a bulletproof vest to court

"He stole from the rich. He stole from the poor. He stole from the in between," the investor added. "He cheated his victims out of their money so he and his wife could live a life of luxury beyond belief."

US 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."

When Madoff pleaded guilty in March 2009 to securities fraud and other charges, he said he was "deeply sorry and ashamed".

Madoff is survived by his wife, Ruth. Both of his sons have died - Andrew from cancer at the age of 48, and Mark from suicide aged 46 in 2010.