No Club Fed likely for Madoff
Ponzi swindler will likely land in a low-security federal prison or, if he's lucky, a less stringent prison camp.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The next big question about convicted scammer Bernard Madoff, who has been ensconced in his $7 million home for the past several months, is where he'll likely spend the rest of his life.
Madoff stole billions through his investment firm. On Thursday, the 70-year-old former investment manager pleaded guilty to 11 criminal charges and now faces a sentence of as long as 150 years. He will be sentenced on June 16.
Madoff has managed to avoid jail so far, having posted $10 million bail. Since his December arrest, he has remained with his wife under house arrest in their Manhattan residence.
But he won't be able to dodge the slammer for much longer.
Madoff may ask the court to be placed in a prison of his choosing and the court can then forward this request to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
The bureau "ultimately decides where the inmate [is incarcerated]," said bureau spokeswoman Felicia Ponce. "We take into consideration judicial recommendations, but they're not binding."
Despite his white-collar status and non-violent history, Madoff won't be whiling away his days in some cushy "Club Fed" type of prison.
Ponce said the bureau weighs the "seriousness of the offense, the expected length of incarceration, any history of escapes and violence" as well as the age of the inmate and "security needs." The bureau tries to incarcerate inmates within 500 miles of their homes, she said.
Madoff's lawyer, Sorkin, wouldn't provide any details of his client's preferences. "There are many different facilities in many different places," he said.
Ponce, of the Bureau of Prisons, dismissed the Club Fed institution as a "myth."
Ed Bales, managing director of Federal Prison Consultants, which prepares inmates for prison life, said that "Club Fed" facilities used to exist in such places as Nellis Federal Prison Camp near Las Vegas. He said these types of facilities were also located in Florida and Pennsylvania. They provided more freedom and better accommodations to inmates than the typical prisons, but were shut down several years ago.
Larry Levine, another prison consultant and former inmate, wrote on his Web site about the experience of being transferred from Nellis when it shut down in 2005 to a "real" prison near El Paso, Texas, replete with "warring gang members" and other violent offenders.
"The Nellis inmates were shell-shocked into the real world of federal prison," wrote Levine. "Gone were their cushy days of being in a camp."
Nowadays, all types of prisons await white collar offenders. Martha Stewart, the domestic diva convicted of insider trading in 2004, served her five-month sentence at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, a minimum-security women's prison known as "Camp Cupcake."
At the other end of the spectrum, former Tyco Chief Executive Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted in a state court and sentenced to up 25 years for grand larceny, was sent to a rougher, medium-security state prison in upstate New York. In a 2007 letter to Fortune, he wrote, "[Prison] is the most difficult of all difficult places to be."
Bales, of Federal Prison Consultants, said his newly convicted clients typically expect the worst, their nightmares of prison rape fueled by television shows like "Oz" and movies like "The Shawshank Redemption." But once they end up behind bars, some inmates are pleasantly surprised to find that it's not as dangerous as they'd thought, he said.
"They're scared out of their minds," said Bales. "They think they're going to get jumped in the shower. But once they hear what they're really like, they calm down a bit."
The best possible facility is the so-called prison camp, where there are "no murderers or rapists" and "no bars on the walls," said Bales. But he added that a lengthy sentence such as Madoff's might bar him from such a desirable facility.
Instead, Madoff might be eligible for a low-security prison, which isn't as bad as medium-security, but it's still a prison.
"In low security, you have some violence, you may have some low-level Mafia type figures, you may have some people who have been involved in child porn," he said. "[Madoff] may be facing that type of scenario."
The best possible low-security federal prison where Madoff could conceivably land is in Fairton, N.J., said Bales. That's the current residence of Sanjay Kumar, former Chief Executive of Computer Associates, serving a 12-year sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice.