The man convicted of the biggest Ponzi scheme in modern American history, guilty of bilking thousands of investors in 49 states and more than 120 countries, is asking a judge to release him from a life sentence so he can die outside prison walls.
Bernie Madoff said he is in the end stages of kidney disease, must use a wheelchair and is in need of round-the-clock help. At 81, he is too old for a transplant, and he has been moved to palliative care within the Federal Medical Center prison in Butner, North Carolina. He is asking for compassionate release so he can die at home.
In phone interviews with The Washington Post, Madoff expressed remorse for his massive fraud, in which he swindled investors out of billions, and said his dying wish is to salvage relationships with his grandchildren.
He has served 11 years of the 150-year sentence he was given in 2009, after pleading guilty to 11 criminal counts, including fraud and money laundering.
“I’m terminally ill,” Madoff said. “There’s no cure for my type of disease. So, you know, I’ve served. I’ve served 11 years already, and, quite frankly, I’ve suffered through it.”
Relatively few inmates seeking compassionate release have had their petitions approved by the Federal Bureau of Prisons since the federal program was created in 1984. But a bipartisan criminal justice reform law passed in late 2018 gave prisoners the right to appeal denials to a federal judge, and that is what Madoff is attempting. His attorney filed a motion late Wednesday in the Southern District of New York.
Madoff’s request will test the justice system’s capacity for compassion weighed against his unprecedented crimes. His scheme ruined scores of lives, stole the financial futures of thousands and sent many retirees back to work after wiping out their nest eggs.
The Bureau of Prisons acknowledges that Madoff has about 18 months to live, according to his medical records. A prison doctor diagnosed him with end-stage renal disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and hyperparathyroidism, among other ailments. The Bureau of Prisons said he fits the criteria for compassionate release but rejected his application in December.
“His condition is considered terminal with a life expectancy of less than 18 months,” Ken Hyle, general counsel for the Bureau of Prisons, wrote in the rejection letter. “However, Mr. Madoff is accountable of a loss to investors of over $13 billion. Accordingly, in light of the nature and circumstances of his offense, his release at this time would minimize the severity of his offense.”
Madoff said he is on dialysis and takes about 10 medications a day, including amlodipine and diltiazem for high blood pressure, atorvastatin (Lipitor) for high cholesterol, and calcitriol (a man-made form of vitamin D).
He said he has been given a back brace, bed wedge, medical shoes and a lower bunk. He said that he has pain and cramping in his thighs, hips and knees and that he rarely sleeps more than an hour at a time, often waking from leg cramps.
Prison records indicate that Madoff is Care Level 4, defined as “functioning may be so severely impaired as to require 24-hour skilled nursing care or nursing assistance.”
It costs about $59,000 a year to house someone at a federal prison medical center, according to the Justice Department inspector general’s report. If the prison system had a “modest” 5% release rate of prisoners 50 and older, the report estimated, the Bureau of Prisons could save about $28 million a year. The prison system restricts eligibility to those 65 and older.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Justin George