NEWS

Editorial: Madoff's sentence a message to would-be swindlers

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Bernie Madoff got what he deserved this week, short of handing him over to the people he cheated of their life savings to do with him what they would. With his 150-year prison sentence, Hell will just have to wait.

With no parole in the federal system, the 71-year-old swindler responsible for one of the great investment frauds of all time would be 221 should he serve his full term, which is of course impossible, even for someone who long ago sold his soul. Some, including Madoff's attorney, have already criticized the sentence as overly harsh, as "mob vengeance," as "pandering to the crowd."

Obviously the judge was sending not just Madoff but others who would emulate him a message that white collar criminals of his ilk should be treated like any other terrorist, traitor or mass murderer. Any reasonable sentence for a crime this severe was likely to amount to a life term for someone of Madoff's age.

We've written this before, but if you purposely and for selfish personal gain deprive someone of everything he has - essentially the tools necessary to support himself and his family - in effect you have committed a violent crime against him, and the judicial system should treat it as such. One victim testified that Madoff had even stolen the funds he'd squirreled away to take care of his handicapped brother. He exploited friends, betrayed family, and in the end could not even muster an "I'm sorry" that had any emotion or sincerity behind it.

"Extraordinarily evil," the judge labeled the $50 billion Ponzi scheme operated by Madoff that wiped out thousands, crippled some charities and registered on the Richter scale in terms of the shock waves it sent through the economy. The penalty was the maximum, triple what even the federal probation office had recommended. Call it a life sentence with an exclamation point for a criminal in a class by himself.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, of course, and there may be no such thing as a deterrent regarding one of the least attractive elements of human nature, but this comes pretty close.

There also is a lesson in Madoff for the rest of us, which is: Don't be so trusting.

Indeed, among his victims were some of the wealthiest people in the nation, plus some banks who employ people who are supposed to know better. He was described as an "elder statesman on Wall Street" - former chairman of the NASDAQ exchange, in fact - which says a lot about Wall Street. Government regulators shouldn't get off the hook here, either. The Securities and Exchange Commission was tipped that Madoff's dealings were not on the up and up, but did nothing. To think the SEC could have intervened before all of this damage had been done. It fell down on the job here. It shouldn't happen again.

Bernie Madoff now will have ample time to think about what he's done, not that he appears to have struggled much to live with himself and his misdeeds. He can add to his "legacy of shame" a nation that arguably has become even more cynical. We didn't think it possible.

Peoria Journal Star