Bernard Madoff, the admitted mastermind of the largest Ponzi scheme in history, doesn’t want to die in prison. A decade into his 150-year sentence, Madoff is seeking to have his sentence commuted by President Trump by filing a petition for clemency with the Justice Department, according to the DOJ website.
Colleen P. Eren, Ph.D., the author of the book Bernie Madoff and the Crisis: the Public Trial of Capitalism , found the filing an “interesting and unexpected development” and, in an interview with The Crime Report, she speculated that Madoff may plan to use certain “good faith gestures” to make a “long-shot case for ‘meritorious service rendered to the government.’ ”
Eren, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at William Paterson University in New Jersey, said, “Madoff has repeatedly emphasized in his letters that his decision to forgo a trial and not provide any cooperation with the prosecution was because of his family and his desire to shield them from the media, for which he has extreme contempt, a contempt that may resonate with Trump.
“He says that because of that decision not to go to trial, the prosecutors made false claims, including about the dating of the fraud.”
Madoff has been incarcerated at a federal prison in Butner, N.C., since July 2009, after he pleaded guilty to the 11 counts of financial crimes, including fraud, money laundering, perjury and theft.
Eren, who exchanged letters and emails with Madoff up to late 2018, said that since his sentencing, Madoff has drawn attention to the assistance he has provided in recovering assets for his victims, which she said he could possibly use as the basis for claiming “good faith” gestures.
“He may also argue that his sentence was of ‘undue severity.'” said Eren. “He has pointed out wrongdoing by banks such as HSBC in laundering billions for drug cartels, where there were no prison sentences handed down, so he may juxtapose his wrongdoing with theirs. Even the language used by Judge Denny Chin, that his sentence was meant to send a message, might help–it was severe to make a point. He can also try to argue that his age should be taken into consideration, in as he is 81.”
Eren said that it appears Madoff is “just as laser-focused on himself–ensuring that his ‘legacy’ and the framing of his case is, in his assessment, rectified–as ever.”
In a bizarre comparison, Madoff mailed her a copy of an article titled, “Amazon wouldn’t have happened without Bernie Madoff,” which described how Jeff Bezos left a hedge fund to pursue Amazon because Bernie Madoff was his competitor.
“He always injects some caveat about not making excuses for his crimes, but rather, try to explain them,” said Eren. “It is difficult to get a sense of his emotional state because other than an occasional reference to his sons, he hasn’t spoken much about his life in prison.”
As for Madoff’s chances of success, Eren said that in his pardons, “Trump appears to be drawn to high-profile people/celebrities and cases where he feels an affinity for the person either because of a personal or ideological connection.”
If clemency is not granted based on those factors, “we see the influence of those close to him–also celebrities and high profile people. For example, Alice Marie Johnson was granted clemency after Kim Kardashian intervened and advocated on her behalf.
“I don’t think anyone in Trump’s circle will be advocating for Madoff, and Madoff was not a friend of Trump’s. Trump in fact turned down Madoff’s overtures to enter his fund. So in spite of Madoff’s high-profile status, I don’t think there is a great likelihood of the request going anywhere.”
Madoff filed a request with the Justice Department between one and three months ago, The Hill reported. The Justice Department’s website lists the request as “pending,” and says it is updated to July 1. His former lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, was not involved in the filing.
In her book, Eren writes that the focus on Madoff as the incarnation of financial corruption ignores the greater economic culture that allowed Madoff and other white-collar crooks to flourish.
Moreover, his role in the Wall Street meltdown is poorly understood. Eren talked to journalists who were ecstatic when the Madoff story broke in December 2008. “They told me, ‘We were almost in tears of joy,’ ” she recalled. Reporters repeatedly cited the “mythological $50 billion” total for his crimes, even though the true number was much lower.
“In some people’s minds, he’s to blame for the whole 2008 crisis, but he had nothing to do with mortgage-backed securities or the credit crunch,” Eren said in her original interview with The Crime Report. “There is a feeling that Madoff’s in prison, and so all is well.”
After Madoff read Eren’s book, his response to it was “I found it very accurate, insightful as well as quite painful. For it was very clear how angry the public at large as well as my clients are with me as the monster of the financial world.”
Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes comments.