June 29, 2009
"Symbolism is Important"
Posted by Jayne Barnard

I've just come from the ceremonial courtroom in the New York federal courthouse, where I was able to witness the sentencing of Bernard Madoff.  There is much to be said about the past two hours -- the dignity and eloquence of the victims who spoke; the crisp and powerful presentation of Lisa Baroni, the U.S. Attorney who argued for the 150-year sentence; the remarkable and quite plausible allocution of the defendant, Bernard Madoff; and, above all, the unprecedented sentence handed down by Judge Denny Chin.  Judge Chin rejected defense arguments that a 150-year sentence could only be justified by some sense of "mob vengeance."  Rather, he said, "symbolism is important"  It is important for purposes of retribution, deterrence, and also to recognize the suffering of victims.  "The fraud here was staggering."

It is true, Judge Chin said, that Madoff had turned himself in and had turned over all his assets.  Still, "I don't believe Mr. Madoff has done all that he could or told all that he knows."  He also noted that, unlike in other white collar crime cases, he had "not received a single letter from family, friends, or colleagues."  Bernie Madoff was quite alone.

Madoff spoke to the court in what I thought was a believable statement.  Oddly, he spent almost as much time lamenting the damage he had done to "the industry I spent my life trying to improve" as he did expressing contrition to his victims.  "I don't ask for any forgiveness," he said.  "I believed that was something I could work my way out of.  I refused to accept the fact that, for once in my life, I had failed."

He talked about his wife, Ruth, who "cries herself to sleep at night" and said "I am tormented by that."  He acknowledged the "legacy of shame" he will leave his grandchildren.  Then, in the only out-of-kilter moment, Madoff turned to face the courtroom and said "I apologize to my victims.  I'm sorry."  The creepy Madoff smirk deformed his face.

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