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Bernie Madoff Seeks Early Release Because He Has 'Less Than 18 Months' To Live

Bernie Madoff, shown here arriving at a court session in 2009, is currently being held at FMC Butner, a federal prison in North Carolina.
Stuart Ramson

Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded hundreds of investors, is seeking compassionate release from prison because of terminal kidney failure.

The motion filed by Madoff's lawyer, Brandon Sample, says the 81-year-old suffers from end-stage renal disease and many other chronic medical conditions. He has a life expectancy of less than 18 months, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"Madoff is experiencing complications, including acid build up, which causes muscle and joint pain, itching, and edema," Sample's motion states. It adds that the former financier is confined to a wheelchair and requires assistance with simple tasks such as grooming.

Sample notes that Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, was released by Scotland in 2009 in light of a terminal diagnosis.

That same year, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 criminal counts and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. At the time of his sentencing, "it was clear that Madoff's 150-year prison sentence was symbolic for three reasons: retribution, deterrence, and for the victims," the motion states. "Over the past ten years circumstances have changed."

"This Court must now consider whether keeping Madoff incarcerated, in light of his terminal kidney failure and a life expectancy of less than 18 months, is truly in furtherance of statutory sentencing goals and our society's value and understanding of compassion," it added.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin will be deciding whether to grant the request. When he imposed Madoff's sentence more than 10 years ago, he slammed the swindler's actions:

"Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff's crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll," Chin said, as NPR reported.

The Bureau of Prisons denied Madoff's compassionate release request in December 2019, saying that "in light of the nature and circumstances of his offense, his release at this time would minimize the severity of the offense." It added that Madoff "has refused dialysis and any further testing, including laboratory work," for his condition, though Madoff's lawyer said he began accepting dialysis that same month.

Madoff is currently being held at FMC Butner, a federal prison in North Carolina.

Sample said that if released, Madoff would not work, would support himself through Social Security and Medicare, and would live with a friend. He added that the former Wall Street financier doesn't pose a danger to society.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said that they planned to file a response to the motion.

Madoff's scheme would pay off old investors with money obtained from new investors. Since the scheme was uncovered, lawyers have been able to recover at least 70% — some $13 billion — of the money feared lost.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 7, 2020 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland happened in 1998. It was in 1988.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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