NEW YORK — Bernard Madoff will get one last creature comfort before he is sentenced today, probably to serve out the rest of his days in prison. The judge has given him permission to don his own clothes for the hearing, rather than a jail uniform.
Jack Cutter is wearing something special, too, these days: a butcher's smock.
The 80-year-old from Longmont, Colo., had to go back to work after he lost his retirement savings in Madoff's massive swindle. He used to be a petroleum engineer. Now he spends his weekdays toiling in the meat department at a Safeway supermarket. The gig pays $8.64 per hour.
"It's a tough job," he said. "Eight hours on my feet."
But with money tight, he has no choice but to stick it out in the only job he could find.
Madoff's fraud, maybe the biggest in Wall Street history, wiped out thousands of people around the globe. Not all of them were Palm Beach millionaires.
A sizable roster of public school teachers, farmers, mechanics and other middle-class folk are also among the victims. Many had been enjoying a comfortable retirement until Madoff's arrest in December. Now, nest eggs gone, they are struggling to pay the bills.
Prosecutors, who have asked a federal judge in Manhattan to sentence Madoff to 150 years, have promised to seize his assets and force him to pay restitution. On Friday, a judge ruled Madoff must forfeit $171 billion in assets, and his wife, Ruth, was stripped of more than $80 million in net worth she claimed was hers.
Yet, six months after his arrest, prosecutors still don't know exactly how much money he took or what victims might hope to eventually recover.
When Madoff confessed in December, investors thought they had $64 billion stashed away in their Madoff accounts. In reality, there was less than $1 billion. Madoff was supposed to have invested the money in stocks. Instead, he ran a classic Ponzi scheme, using new deposits to pay bogus returns.
People like Karen Audet, a retired elementary school teacher in Fort Lauderdale, wonder what to do next.
She rolled $225,000 from her retirement plan into a fund run by a well-regarded member of her church, who in turn invested it with Madoff. It's all gone.
For now, she said, the only solution is for her husband to put off retirement and keep working, even after recent sextuple bypass surgery.
"We really did need that money very much," she said. "I am in constant anguish."