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A Times Editorial

Fitting end for remorseless swindler

Bernard Madoff got what he deserved. The 71-year-old financial swindler will never see another day as a free man after being sentenced Monday to 150 years in federal prison. While a 25-year sentence would have surely accomplished the same result, meting out the maximum sentence was a symbolic nod to the scope of Madoff's investment fraud and the number of lives he ruined.

In the end, no one stood up for Madoff. No one sent a letter of support to vouch for his character, not even his wife. Madoff is abjectly alone. He exploited his personal relationships to enrich himself and keep his $65 billion Ponzi scheme humming. It is fitting that he will die destitute, the way he left so many of his "friends."

But Madoff's sentencing is not the end of things. Investigators need to unearth the entire web of Madoff's fraud, and prosecutors need to charge those who helped perpetuate it. And the Securities and Exchange Commission needs to learn from its mistakes. The outsized investment swindle that Madoff maintained for 20 years suggests that there may have been others who advanced or concealed the fraud. So far only Madoff's auditor has been criminally charged.

Madoff's refusal to cooperate with prosecutors to identify accomplices makes his lame apology in court even more feckless. His failure to provide meaningful assistance to the trustee charged with trying to recover assets for restitution illustrates his lack of remorse.

Madoff's victims deserve a thorough criminal investigation and a fair distribution of whatever assets remain. But they also deserve an honest appraisal of what went wrong at the SEC. The regulatory body received multiple alerts by whistle-blower Harry Markopolos about Madoff's suspicious dealings. Starting in 2000, Markopolos laid out a strong circumstantial case against Madoff that the SEC assiduously ignored. Had the agency been more responsive, had it cared more about going after big financiers than goosing its "win" statistics by going after lots of little guys, Madoff wouldn't have gotten away with swindling billions of dollars.

Changes at the SEC are under way. But there has to be a mechanism to survey the financial world for Madoff-like schemes and automatically police investment funds that are too good to be true. Madoff's long prison sentence means he won't be sent to a minimum security facility, but one with more fencing and stricter rules. He will live out his days doing menial labor and eating bland food. It's all befitting a man who sold out anyone who trusted him.

Fitting end for remorseless swindler 06/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 7:26pm]
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